One of 3D Printing’s hottest applications is without doubt space exploration, and after months of testing 3D printing on the International Space Station (ISS) has lift off.
Made in Space’s 3D printer, which aims to print spare parts and tools on the ISS is testing way ahead of schedule, meeting NASA’s incredibly strict safety testing so much so that the delivery of the printer has been bumped forward.
The printer was due to be delivered by Elon Musk’s SpaceX CRS-5 scheduled for November 2014 but such is NASA’s excitement to get the printer on board that the printer will now be delivered on CRS-4 in August of this year.
The 3D printer was subjected to a series of tests at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) with the goal of verifying that the hardware met NASA safety and operational requirements for ISS use. These tests included Electromagnetic Interference (EMI), vibration, materials compliance, human factors, electrical, and ISS interface checks. NASA has certified that the hardware meets all necessary operational standards.
“NASA was able to provide key guidance on how to best comply with strenuous space certification, safety and operational requirements and Made In Space excelled at incorporating that insight into the design,” said Niki Werkheiser, the NASA 3D Print Project Manager. “As a result, the hardware passed testing with flying colours. Made In Space now has first-hand experience of the full ‘A-to-Z’ process for designing, building, and testing hardware for spaceflight.”
The printer will be installed in the Microgravity Science Glovebox (MSG), which provides the on-board astronauts with a safe and contained environment for carrying out experiements with potentially hazourdous materials. Once installed the printer will print an initial set of 21 demonstration parts, including a series of test coupons, parts and tools, that will provide meaningful immediate data via downlinked high-definition video, but will also be returned to earth for detailed ground analyses. This first set of prints will serve to verify the printer and extrusion process in microgravity. The next phase will serve to demonstrate utilisation of meaningful parts such as crew tools, payload ancillary hardware, and potential commercial applications such as cubesat components.
“Passing the final tests and shipping the hardware are significant milestones, but they ultimately lead to an even more meaningful one – the capability for anyone on Earth to have the option of printing objects on the ISS. This is unprecedented access to space. If you want to 3D print in space, contact us now,” said Made In Space CEO Aaron Kemmer.
The ability to create necessary items on-demand will reduce the need to launch all parts and redundancies from Earth, saving time, money and payload space aboard rockets. The presence of a 3D printer onboard will also allow astronauts a tool to create solutions to unforeseen situations.
The AMF 3D printer will be fully available for use by researchers, businesses and individuals on Earth. Science and research timelines will become shorter and experiments more affordable for parties looking to utilize 3D printers aboard ISS.
“When we started Made In Space in 2010, we laid out a large, audacious vision for changing space exploration by bringing manufacturing to space,” said Jason Dunn, Chief Technology Officer for Made In Space. “We’ve systematically pursued that vision by testing 3D printing in microgravity on parabolic flights, designing a printer for those conditions, and, now, flying our 3D printer to the ISS. Passing these tests means that we’ve achieved another milestone. We’re nearing the culmination of the first stage of our larger vision.”