3D Printers

Made In Space 3D prints first-ever extended objects in a space-like environment

In March we reported on a system and method for assembling a spacecraft such as a satellite in space from Made In Space.

Now photos and more details are available demonstrating how Made In Space plans to additively manufacture extended structures off-earth.

Made In Space robotics in front of the Archinaut design.
Made In Space robotics in front of the Archinaut design.

In conjunction with NASA, testing is underway of the a key part of the in-space manufacturing and assembly technology, Archinaut.

Using a thermal vacuum chamber (TVAC) at NASA Ames Research Center’s Engineering Evaluation Laboratory (EEL), MIS’s Extended Structure Additive Manufacturing Machine (ESAMM) demonstrated it can 3D print in the vacuum and temperature environment of space.

The Made In Space team working on Archinaut
The Made In Space team working on Archinaut

The aim of the project is to develop a system that can enable next generation, space-optimized satellite design and deployment.

3D printing in space – several approaches

The MIS system uses engineering thermoplastics mix of, Polyether Imide (PEI) – often referred to by the brand name ULTEM and Polycarbonate (PC).

The Made In Space team.
The Made In Space team.

Separate research is also looking at how the vacuum of space might be harnessed for additive manufacturing using metals. For example metal wire deposition 3D printing techniques on earth require a high vacuum environment to operate, this would not be a requirement in space – allowing substantially larger structures to be fabricated.

Working in a low gravity environment also means that design constraints – such as support material – can be disregarded. A further advantage of in-space manufacture is the avoidance of the extreme severe conditions encountered during launch.

Further interest in space-based 3D printing has come from groups interested in using in-situ materials such as lunar regolith. 3D Printing Industry heard from NASA’s Dr. Raymond ‘Corky’ Clinton on this topic, you can read our report here.

The work by Made In Space was performed under the MIS Tipping Point contract with NASA. MIS says, this “first-ever extended 3D-printed objects in a space-like environment [is]  a significant milestone on the path to manufacturing systems and satellites in space.”

Technological readiness demonstrated

Having proved the concept, ESAMM hardware was then used to manufacture a beam structure measuring over 30 meters in length.

The Made In Space AMF Room
The Made In Space AMF Room
The Made In Space Control Room.
The Made In Space Control Room.

Andrew Rush, MIS President & CEO said, “These successful demonstrations mean that on-demand, adaptable manufacturing of complex structures in space has been significantly derisked.”

“This expands the design space. We hope that mission planners can now more confidently design missions around in-space manufacturing and assembly, optimizing satellites for their operational environment, not just launch.”

Made in Space has offices  in Florida, California, Alabama and Ohio, and plans to utilise the space environment to develop manufacturing solutions to commercial, industrial, research and defense challenges.

The company’s vision is to enable the future of space exploration by offering off Earth manufacturing capabilities.

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