Tag Archives: 3D Printing in Space

Lowe’s and Made In Space to launch first commercial 3D printer into space

Lowe’s sells tools on Earth, so why not provide tools in space as well? 

This news is out of this world, literally! Made In Space has revealed a new partnership with Lowe’s to launch a commercial 3D printer to the International Space Station early next year.


The California-based startup has built a printer, called the Additive Manufacturing Facility, that will don the Lowe’s logo and be used to make branded tools for astronauts in orbit. Of course, this will also make the home improvement giant the first retailer to have a presence in space. The partnership appears to make as much sense on the ground as it does 200 miles above Earth.

Now, astronauts will be able to employ next-gen 3D printing technology to create tools on-demand and produce parts that they may not have otherwise had onboard. The microwave-sized AMF will allow NASA to email a digital file to the ISS so that astronauts can extrude what they need as they’re needed, which ranges from tools like ratchets to potentially even health and medical devices. The process itself would take approximately two hours, depending on size, and nearly one-third of all parts on the ISS can be 3D printed.

Meanwhile here on land, customers are already using Lowe’s Innovation Labs’ 3D scanning and printing services to develop custom or hard-to-find replacement parts.

“Lowe’s and Made in Space share a vision of how 3D printing can revolutionize retail and home improvement, while also changing the way astronauts work in space,” explained Kyle Nel, executive director of Lowe’s Innovation Labs. “This is just the beginning of a broader partnership with Made In Space that will bring tools to space and new technology to Earth.”


If you recall, the company already has a piece of hardware in space. Back in 2014, Made In Space developed an experimental 3D printer for NASA that was installed aboard the space station. In total, the machine yielded 24 items that were sent to Earth for laboratory analysis. Upon testing, the unit proved to work well in zero-G conditions and paved way for the commercial-grade AMF.

Unlike more conventional 3D printers, the AMF requires special fans and heaters to compensate for different temperature zones, air pressure and gravitational issues. Beyond that, it uses a higher-grade plastic than your typical PLA filament, one that is flame-retardant to avoid dangerous explosions onboard.

“For the first time, astronauts can now manufacture what they need, when they need it in space,” added Jason Dunn, chief technology officer and co-founder of Made in Space. “We have successfully demonstrated the technology’s capabilities in space. And now with the launch of the permanent additive manufacturing facility to the ISS, we are enabling humanity to manufacture things off the planet.”

While AMF’s launch date and provider have not yet been determined, the printer will most likely get off the ground sometime early next year. Until then, you can stay up-to-date with the mission here.

What will be the next 3D-printed object in space?

While November 24, 2014 will forever leave its mark in Maker history, researchers already have their eyes set on the next 3D-printed object in the final frontier: a buckle. Though the next item to be constructed may not be as memorable, the buckle will play an important role in preventing muscle-loss for astronauts working in zero-G conditions. For those unfamiliar with space exploration, prolonged periods of time spent in gravity-less environments can wreak havoc with an individual’s ability to walk when landing back down on Earth, due to a combination of muscle atrophy and loss of motor control.


The buckle, which is slated to be printed in 2015, was designed in Autodesk by flight surgeon Yvonne Cagle in collaboration with both Made in Space and Singularity University. One major hurdle in the design process that the team must overcome is to ensure that the design is sturdy enough to withstand the stresses of space travel.

“In order to get there you need something that is going to be a really powerful stabilizer but has a small enough footprint and is simple enough to fix or print more if you need it,” she explains.

Designed to be placed on large muscle groups, FastCo.Labs reveals that the buckle will be a mere component to a much larger harness and compression system that astronauts can use anywhere. It will be printed and assembled on the International Space Station from three separate printed sections, each approximately 4.5” x 1.”

“I became very intrigued with what would happen if you could get the G [gravity] suit and actually used it to recondition the body,” said Cagle. “Without the buckle, it’s just an Ace wrap that isn’t able to generate higher pressures that could protect muscles and nerves. The buckle is really the turnkey to lock together the different embodiments and design.”


As far as 3D printing in space goes, extruder plates and buckles are just the beginning. The hope is that these machines will one day be able to replace malfunctioning parts that would otherwise end a mission. By the time the buckle is ready for production, Made in Space should have its second-generation printer ready to be delivered to the ISS. While the company’s first printer used ABS plastic, its succeeding unit will offer multiple material capacity and an increased build volume.

As FastCo.Labs notes, Cagle intends to analyze the data from the initial print to finalize which materials will be necessary to create the buckle. “Now we know that you can put up the design in record time, and then the crew can very promptly and reliably print something that works.”

Among the number of other objects Cagle hopes to design for living in space include an inventory tracking device to alert when supplies are running low, first aid devices like finger splints, and utensils with longer handles to keep astronauts and their spacecraft from getting messy while eating.

“It’s an opportunity to invent new uses for old materials or old uses for new materials that we never considered before,” Cagle concludes.