Upon the announcement of their successful experiments in 3D printing inside of a vacuum, space-printing startup Made In Space has announced a partnership that will take them even further towards the goal of in-space manufacturing. Today, the firm has made public an agreement with NanoRacks, a commercial provider of low-Earth orbit services, to 3D print satellites on-demand from the International Space Station or any other CubeSat deployment platform.
The partners are calling their new offering the Stash & Deploy service. As NanoRacks has established its own business of deploying CubeSats into low-Earth orbit, the company will be able to store standard and customer-specific satellite parts on a satellite deployment site, like the ISS. Then, with Made In Space’s on-board Additive Manufacturing Facility (AMF), including the 3D printer currently aboard the ISS and future generations of the AMF with vacuum 3D printing abilities, satellite housings will be 3D printed for assembly and completion of the devices.
Andrew Rush, president of Made In Space, says of the program, “This is a fundamental shift for satellite production. In the near future, we envision that satellites will be manufactured quickly and to the customer’s exact needs, without being overbuilt to survive launch or have to wait for the next launch.” Jeffrey Manber, CEO of NanoRacks, adds, “Stash and deploy opens a new chapter in space utilization. Looking out a few years this option may be more desirable than launch and deploy.”
As you might imagine, the Stash & Deploy service will open an entirely new way of launching satellites. Customers will be able to design custom satellites which can be built in space, saving tremendous costs and time that would otherwise be required to launch the satellites themselves, and, thus, spend the time and money to send these aboard a rocket. And this would just be the beginning. CubeSats are comparatively simple devices that will execute a great proof of concept for the companies before moving onto larger satellites and, one day, complete spacecraft, such as the drones being designed by NASA. Made In Space CTO and Co-Founder, Jason Dunn, says, “Made In Space was founded with the belief that one day entire spacecraft will be manufactured in space. With Stash & Deloy, NanoRacks and Made In Space make the first step towards this goal.”
Stash & Deploy will kick off in Q1 of 2016. If you were to match this announcement with the recently launched SpaceVR Kickstarter, which hopes to send a 3D 360 camera to space, then they’d be 3D printing a SpaceVR camera to send to the Moon by 2017. When they’ll be 3D printing complete drones, we’ll have to wait and see.