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Several companies are developing 3D printers that might eventually be able to print space! What!?

Also, researchers have spotted an object far out in the solar system that may turn out to be a dwarf planet.

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Hank: You know how on Star Trek, people can just walk up to a machine and manufacture whatever they need? Well, we’re trying to do that for real-life space travel, too, because it’s expensive to send everything you could possibly need into space.

It’s so much easier to just make tools and supplies on demand. Pretty soon, we might even be able to 3D print entire organs in space. And then bring them back down to make life better here on Earth.

In June, three tech companies tested a device meant to one day print working human organs in space. The printer flew on a so-called “vomit comet” a plane that flies in a pattern that creates a few seconds of weightlessness at a time and it printed some small bits of heart and blood vessel tissue. The International Space Station already has its own working 3D printer for plastic aka the closest thing we have to a Star Trek replicator in real life.

If they really needed to, astronauts could print out almost anything, as long as it’s meant to be made of plastic and fits within the size constraints of the printer. And Earth-based space agencies can send designs to the station to print, without having to send a physical object up on a rocket. But the 3D printing approach isn’t just for making plastic tools.

Scientists and doctors are trying to develop a way to manufacture human organs, too, out of adult stem cells -- the cells whose job it is to repair damaged tissue. If we could 3D print organs, that could save a lot more lives than our current system, which relies on finding an organ donor that’s a match. Since 3D printed organs would be made from the patient’s own cells, they would definitely be a match.

And they’d be available on demand. They could even be customized to fit. The printer that was tested last month can’t print full organs or anything, but it can print tissue. 3D printers that print tissue -- or bioprinters -- print using bioink, a solution of adult stem cells and support material. It prints the bioink in a detailed pattern that tries to mimic the natural structures of the tissue. The support material can be made of different substances, but its job is to form a solid structure that encourages the cells to grow.

And it turns out that it’s a lot easier to print cells in space, because the bioink just needs less junk in it. On Earth, bioink needs to be very thick to support the cells. The support material causes a lot of stress on the cells during the printing process. And you can’t print an organ with dead cells. In space, printers can use a thinner bioink and a finer printer tip. The finer printer tip allows them to place individual cells more precisely. And the thinner ink is easier on the cells. The cells can then eventually build their own supports to stabilize the printed structure so it can be brought back to Earth.

Right now, this technology can make little bits and pieces of tissue, like grafts, and the companies plan to make a scaled-down version of the device to eventually fly on the International Space Station. Building a functional organ, with blood vessels and a complex microscopic structure, is a long ways off, but with more research, we might eventually get there. So, being able to 3D print organs in space could both improve healthcare here on Earth, and help us explore the final frontier.

But even relatively close to home, there are still new things to discover. Researchers working with the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope in Hawaii have spotted what seems to be a new dwarf planet a small, icy world similar to Pluto, called 2015 RR245. Another catchy name from the scientists studying planets.

The solar system beyond Neptune, a region called the Kuiper belt, is full of these icy rocks. This is not the hypothetical ninth planet that was announced earlier this year. Astronomers are still looking for that one, and if it exists, it’ll be a lot bigger.

This new world is thought to be about 700 kilometers across, which would put it in the top 20 biggest objects in the Kuiper. It has an incredibly lopsided orbit around the Sun it’s 34 times the distance from Earth to the Sun at its closest point, and 120 times at its farthest point. Right now, it’s on the approach.

But astronomers still aren’t totally sure if RR245 is actually a dwarf planet. To be a dwarf planet, the object must be round, but we’re not yet sure that RR245 is round we don’t know if it has enough mass for its gravity to pull it into a spherical shape. But the object is bigger than Mimas, one of Saturn’s moons. Since Mimas is big enough to be round, this even-bigger object is probably round, too.

And there’s still so much of the Kuiper belt that we haven’t detected yet! So there are probably tons of dwarf planets still waiting to be discovered. But because Kuiper belt objects are very faint, tiny, and very far away, they’re tough to spot.

So it’s possible that we won’t be discovering many more dwarf planets until new, better telescopes get fired up in a decade or so. Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow Space News, and thanks especially to all of our patrons on Patreon who help make this show possible. If you want to help us keep making episodes like this, you can go to, and don’t forget to go to and subscribe!