SpaceX sends a 3D bioprinter to the ISS to let astronauts print new skin

26 Jul 2019

A Falcon 9 SpaceX rocket takes off at Cape Canaveral. Image: John Raoux/PA Media

A new 3D bioprinter has been sent to the International Space Station using a SpaceX rocket to allow astronauts print nerve cells, muscle cells and proteins.

A space capsule carrying a 3D printer to make human tissue is on its way to the International Space Station after a thunderous SpaceX launch.

The private company’s Falcon 9 rocket dodged threatening clouds during lift-off, sending a Dragon capsule on its third trip to the orbiting outpost. The ship will dock with the station early on Saturday (27 July).

Dragon is carrying science experiments, several of which concentrate on cellular science, as well as normal supplies. Officials at biotech companies nScrypt and Techshot said the mini-refrigerator-sized 3D printer will be controlled by scientists on the ground and print nerve cells, muscle cells and proteins.The experiment uses the near lack of gravity to help the cells hold their shape.

The sending of the capsule coincides with the company launching a prototype of its Starship rocket, which aims to take humans and cargo to the moon and Mars. During the test launch, the prototype – dubbed Starhopper – briefly took off and hovered for a few seconds. This name was chosen because of the test commonly being referred to as a ‘hop’.

As The Verge reported, the craft is a long way from reaching outer space, but this prototype contained a single Raptor engine that allowed it to move sideways before making a safe landing upright. The total length of the test was just 15 seconds, but its success paves the way towards future, larger tests of the Starship technology.

This includes conducting more hop tests in the coming months, as well as constructing two Starship prototypes that will fly higher and for longer than these early tests. Each of these craft will be fitted with an additional two Raptor engines, which will take them up to altitudes of around 20km.

– PA Media, with additional reporting from Colm Gorey