Jun 13, 2016 | By Max

A Russian team is developing a 3D printer for use on the International Space Station (ISS). The creators say their printer will use composite printing materials to produce technological components for batteries, antennas, and the microsatellite CubeSat while on board. The project combines the work of the Skolkovo Foundation resident companies Sputnix and Anisoprint, as well as Moscow Polytechnic University. Sputnix specializes in the development of high tech microsatellite components, and launched the first Russian private Earth remote sensing satellite in 2014. Anisoprint produces high performance fiber reinforced plastics. The joint project aims to overcome issues faced when building and producing in outer space, such as launch trauma, size constraints, and the difficulties of sending new materials into orbit.

Americans in the ISS have already developed a 3D printer that is currently being used for experiments onboard. Launched in 2014, the 3D printer produced by NASA and Made by Space uses plastic filament and is able to print prototypes and small replacement parts. This past April, NASA installed the Additive Manufacturing Facility (AMF), another 3D printer created by Made in Space. The AMF is also able to make tools and provide maintenance, and is notably open for third party use to 3D print objects in space.

Fyodor Antonov, director of Anisoprint. Photo: Skoltech.

The Russian team, however, plans to print in a combination of two materials that would ultimately allow for the printing of small satellite components. While many 3D printers use molten plastic, this 3D printer combines thermoplastics with continuous reinforcing carbon fiber. This composite structure is said to increase rigidity by tenfold as compared to conventional molten plastics. Its creators say it can be used to make reflectors, antennas, solar panels. Anisoprint director Fyoder Antonov said, “The fundamental difference between our Russian invention and the American one is that our printer prints with composites – not just plastic, but continuous carbon fiber reinforced plastic. We’d like to use our device to print – right up there in orbit – parts of satellites made out of carbon fiber reinforced plastic, practically the same kind used on Earth to make the main body of large satellites, solar battery panels, antenna reflectors and all sorts of other elements of spacecraft.”

The successful completion of the project would allow for greater onboard experimentation than is available with the current 3D printer aboard the International Space Station, as well as the capacity to print new technologies or needed parts directly from orbit. However, much work remains to be done before this 3D printer is ready for actual use in outer space. The team is currently conducting the first in a series of experiments. They plan to make a model of the 3D printer this summer for use in experiments that account for conditions onboard including vibration, weightlessness, and ISS safety standards. The project’s second stage will include experimentation on the ISS in conjunction with Roscosmos, the Russian state space corporation. This stage will include the onboard construction of solar panels and antenna components.

By the time their project is completed, the team hopes to be able to print entire microsatellites directly from their position in outer space. As Sputnix General Director Andrei Potapov stated, “We believe [3D printing] is the technology of the future.” With that sentiment in mind, the team hopes to not only pursue technological progress onboard, but educational progress as well. The project offers potential for students at Moscow Polytechnic University and elsewhere to become directly involved with the processes and experimentation that take place on the ISS via accessible remote 3D printing. The process not only provides a novel learning experience, but lends itself to promoting the creative development of further applications of this 3D printer onboard the ISS.



Posted in 3D Printer



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Aleksey wrote at 6/16/2016 3:54:10 PM:

There is a difference between MarkForged and Anisoprint. Anisoprint printer takes plastic and reinforcing fiber separately, allowing to use different types of plastic independently on type of reinforcing fiber, not just Nylon as MarkForged does. Such approach also allows to vary fiber volume fraction while printing, making it more versatile.

Fedor wrote at 6/16/2016 3:42:32 PM:

There is a difference between MarkForged and Anisoprint: this printer takes plastic and reinforcing fiber separately, allowing to use different types of plastic, not just Nylon as MarkForged does. Such approach also allows to vary fiber volume fraction while printing, making it more versatile.

Spaceman Spiff wrote at 6/14/2016 2:55:39 PM:

Markforged already invented this printer.

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