Microgravity & Sub-Orbital Research

  • Next expected milestone: COMPLETED
  • First Milestone: Summer 2011 – Awarded Sub-Orbital Flight via NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program

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In June of 2013, Made In Space conducted examinations of their proprietary 3D printer technology at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.  The printers were tested during four microgravity flights lasting two hours each, simulating conditions found on the ISS.

The flights were made as part of NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program. In 2011, Made In Space was chosen to perform both parabolic and suborbital test flights. The company was then awarded a NASA Phase 1 SBIR Contract to deliver their 3D printer to the ISS.

Previous test flights guided the design of the current prototype, the first and only 3D printer designed for space. Over four flights consisting of 32 microgravity parabolas each, three prototype versions were tested. They were secured in Zero-G Corporation’s modified Boeing 727 to examine printing and hardware effects over the course of the two-hour flights.

3D Print Experiment with NASA

  • Next expected milestone: Microgravity flights and environmental testing

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To prepare for a future where parts can be built on-demand in space, Made In Space, the space manufacturing company, has partnered with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center to launch the first 3D printer to space.

Made In Space’s customized 3D printer will be the first device to manufacture parts away from planet Earth. The 3D Printing in Zero-G Experiment will validate the capability of additive manufacturing in zero-gravity.

All space missions today are completely dependent on Earth and the launch vehicles that send equipment to space. The greater the distance from Earth and the longer the duration, the more difficult it will be to resupply materials.

The Made In Space and NASA team envisions a future where space missions can be virtually self-sufficient and manufacture most of what they need in space. This includes such things as consumables, common tools, and replacements for lost or broken parts and eventually even such things as CubeSats (small, deployable satellites).

Microgravity & Sub-Orbital Research

  • Next expected milestone: Next Microgravity Flight in Summer 2013
  • First Milestone: Summer 2011 – Awarded Sub-Orbital Flight via NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program

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In August of 2011, Made In Space started its initial testing of the effects of microgravity on 3D printing.

Made In Space accomplished 3 flight campaigns comprising over 400 parabolas of microgravity testing with NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program during the Fall of 2011. Three different 3D printers were flown, as well as multiple individual sub-components, all with the goal of:

  1. Confirming that extrusion-based 3D printing works in zero gravity
  2. Determining how effective the process is compared to ground-based printing
  3. Researching and understanding the fundamental physics of 3D printing in zero gravity.

With these microgravity flights, as well as subsequent on-going microgravity research, Made In Space laid the initial foundation for learning the key technological steps for enabling 3D printers to work in space. The microgravity flights also enabled the TRL of the technology to be pushed even further, from a TRL 2-3 to a TRL 5.

Made In Space was also awarded sub-orbital flights via NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program.

See a video of a talk of Made In Space’s Engineering and Design Lead Michael Snyder talk about the flights by a fan here.

3D Printing in Zero-G Experiment for ISS: NASA SBIR Phase 3

  • Expected Flight Date: Delivery to ISS in Fall 2014
  • Latest milestone: February 2013 – Awarded a Phase 3 Sole Source contract with NASA MSFC

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Under a contract with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC), Made In Space is building the first 3D printer for space. The 3D Printing in Zero-G Experiment will fly to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2014.

The 3D Printing in Zero-G Experiment will:

  • Provide valuable scientific foundation for future additive manufacturing in space.
  • Demonstrate the long-term effects of microgravity on 3D printing.
  • Demonstrate the end-to-end use case of a 3D printer in the microgravity environment by building useful components.
  • Fly as a risk reduction and feedback development for the production version Additive Manufacturing Facility (AMF) to be flown at a later date, which will enable multiple entities to print parts in space.

Additive Manufacturing Facility for ISS: NASA SBIR Phase 2

  • Latest milestone: January 2013 – Awarded a Phase 2 SBIR with NASA to build and flight qualify a production facility 3D Printer for the ISS
  • Expected Flight Date: 2015
  • Goal: Enable Science, Enable NASA, Enable Entrepreneurs and Partnering Companies/Other Space Agencies by having the capabilities to 3D print parts on-demand in space

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As part of this contract, Made In Space is developing an Additive Manufacturing Facility to fly aboard the ISS to serve as a production manufacturing device.

The Additive Manufacturing Facility is a space-qualified 3D printer that will be utilized by NASA, partnering government space agencies, commercial companies, entrepreneurs, and scientists wishing to expand upon station capabilities for both research and for private enterprise.

The Additive Manufacturing Facility will enable:

  • Repair of essential components, upgrades of existing hardware, installation of new hardware that is manufactured, and the manufacturing capability to support commercial interests.
  • The crew to perform station maintenance, build tools, and repair sections of the station in case of an emergency.
  • Hundreds of useful items to be built on demand in space such as: science experiment hardware, often-used consumables, clips, buckles, containers, and wire holders to facilitate activities or to replace broken or damaged accessories.

The Additive Manufacturing Facility will use an extrusion-based “3D printing” method, which Made In Space has already tested in microgravity with successful results (Fall 2011), and is scheduled to do suborbital testing and further microgravity testing in 2013 as part of NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program.

 

Made In Space 3D Printing Lab & On-Going Research

  • Status: On-going day-to-day research
  • First Milestone: Research Started in 2010

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The Made In Space laboratory currently possesses state of the art and unique additive manufacturing devices, including over a dozen commercial printers and a handful of custom built Made In Space machines.

The laboratory also possesses the equipment to construct and testing new 3D printing hardware. Research is being accomplished on a daily basis to further additive manufacturing and peripheral technologies, where Made In Space is developing the 3D printing technologies of today (for the ISS) and the future (from building large structures to enabling closed loop manufacturing systems).

The research being done by Made In Space will enable the benefits of 3D printing and apply them to space. The benefits of 3D printing includes:

  • Customization is easy (one-off designs can be easily built)
  • Minimal raw material waste
  • Lighter and more optimized parts (enables complete optimization of mass/volume)
  • Faster production time
  • Spacing for integrated electronics
  • Limited human interaction required
  • Printing process can be varied to fit needs and limitations (printing speed can be changed, resolution can be changed, amount of fill in the interior of a part can be changed)

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