Jan 28, 2015 | By Simon

As far as recent developments in additive manufacturing go, the past year has been extremely exciting for those interested in the possibilities of Design for Space Manufacturing... particularly in the efforts that have been done by Made in Space.

The Silicon Valley 3D printing startup successfully designed and engineered a 3D printer that was installed on the International Space Station last year and just recently finished printing their initial test round of objects.  

In blog post published on Medium by the Made in Space team yesterday, the team highlighted that every single one of the 25 prints in total (some were duplicates of the 14-piece test collection to test wear of the objects) was able to be printed without failure... a huge accomplishment considering that it’s hard enough to 3D print an object on Earth without failure and their 3D printer had to suffer through a rocket lift-off in addition to being the first zero-gravity 3D printer.  


“The successful printing was an incredibly rewarding outcome for the NASA and Made In Space engineering teams who strived to build a robust and hassle-free printer. Once calibrated, using the calibration coupon and a video feed from inside the printer, every object printed as expected.“

The next step for both the Made in Space team and NASA is to compare the space-manufactured parts (which are still yet to arrive back on Earth) with the same prints printed on the same machines but on Earth.  To test the possible differences, the parts will undergo a series of destructive test procedures including flexing, pulling, twisting and compressing in addition to microscopic analysis.  The tests, which will be primarily performed by NASA at their NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, will ultimately dictate any changes to the design and/or processes of the 3D printer for future testing and ultimately, a final 3D printer design that is capable of consistently manufacturing reliable tools to be used during space exploration missions.      

Among the 14 tools that were used for the initial test period include a sample container, a torque tool, a replacement part for the 3D printer and perhaps their most well-known 3D printed file: the ratchet that was emailed from Earth and 3D printed aboard the International Space Station...a first.

In addition to further iterating on their Zero-Gravity 3D Printer, Made in Space is also busy working on a complementary zero-gravity material recycler that is capable of turning waste materials back into feedstock for the Zero-Gravity 3D Printer.  The upcycled trash will not only help decrease the amount of waste onboard, but it will also reduce the need for having to send additional feedstock to the International Space Station and help the astronauts remain independent from Earth...which Made in Space is quick to admit:

“...which is the ultimate goal is it not?”



Posted in 3D Printing Applications


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