3D printing now possible outside the ISS, in the vacuum of space.
Made In Space has successfully completed a round of testing to prove that its next generation of 3D printers can operate in the vacuum of space. The world’s first space manufacturing company announced a breakthrough last month following on from its successful mission to 3D print on the International Space Station.
Last year, Made In Space became the first company to build and operate additive manufacturing technology in space when its hardware completed the first mission phase of NASA’s 3D Printing in Zero-G Technology Demonstration. The printer produced twenty-four parts that have since been returned to Earth for laboratory analysis. This mission was a precursor to the company’s completely commercial Additive Manufacturing Facility (AMF) which will fly later this year to the International Space Station.
Made in Space team during a parabolic flight to validate the zero-G 3D printer.
“We believe we are as little as 18 months away from incorporating the current designs into on-orbit tests,” Mike Snyder, Chief Engineer at Made In Space, commented. “These preliminary tests, combined with our experience with microgravity additive manufacturing, show that the direct manufacturing of structures in space is possible using Made In Space developed technologies. Soon, structures will be produced in space that are much larger than what could currently fit into a launch fairing, designed for microgravity rather than launch survivability. Complete structural optimisation is now possible in space.”
Made In Space spent a week testing a modified version of the AMF with proprietary vacuum-compatible extrusion heads in a vacuum chamber. Various specimens were produced using aerospace-grade thermopolymers to test how the process works in the vacuum environment. Those specimens will be tested this month to determine if any mechanical properties differ when compared to parts produced in Earth atmosphere.