Tag Archives: CubeSats

Made In Space is looking to 3D print outside the ISS

Made In Space is hoping to make in-orbit satellite construction a reality.

Back in 2014, Made In Space became the first company to build and operate additive manufacturing hardware in space when their hardware completed the first mission phase of NASA’s 3D Printing in Zero-G Technology Demonstration. In total, the machine produced 24 parts that have since been returned to Earth for laboratory analysis. As it turns out, this was merely the beginning of the California-based startup’s elaborate plan which includes a commercial-scale 3D printer, the Additive Manufacturing Facility (AMF).


Just the other day, Made In Space announced a breakthrough in their efforts to develop manufacturing technologies for extra terrestrial applications. Following in the footsteps of 3D printing objects on the International Space Station, the team has been devising new ways to operate outside the ISS. Last month, the startup successfully completed a round of tests, proving that their next generation of 3D printers can work in the vacuum of space.

“We believe we are as little as 18 months away from incorporating the current designs into on-orbit tests,” explained Mike Snyder, Chief Engineer at Made In Space, “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 optimization is now possible in space.”

For this phase, Made In Space tested a modified version of their AMF — which is expected to fly later this year — with their proprietary vacuum-compatible extrusion heads, and accumulated over a week of testing inside a vacuum chamber. Various specimens were produced using aerospace-grade thermopolymers to test how the deposition process works in the vacuum environment. While preliminary results suggest that the 3D printing process worked as expected, Made in Space will be analyzing the finished parts to determine if any mechanical properties differ from items created in Earth’s atmosphere.

If all goes to plan, Made In Space would then be theoretically able to place 3D printers into orbit outside of the ISS, if supplied with sufficient raw material. Raw material can be delivered more efficiently to orbit as it could be packed very densely, unlike the prints it would turn into.


On top of that, the startup has revealed another project, which would pave the way for the first off-Earth assembly line. To accomplish this, Made In Space has partnered with NanoRacks to develop an orbital construction-and-deployment service for tiny CubeSats that they are calling “Stash & Deploy.” This service will leverage NanoRacks’ experience in CubeSat deployment and Made In Space’s in-space 3D printing capabilities to deliver on-demand satellite manufacturing and assembly for developers.

A variety of standard and customer-specific satellite components will be cached aboard a satellite deployment platform, such as the ISS. Many of these parts will be built using Made In Space’s AMF, and “stashed” for rapid manufacture of CubeSats.

The idea is that customers will be able to easily and quickly design their satellite or request a satellite be designed based on their requirements. From there, the optimized structure will be created on orbit and the necessary components will be integrated. The satellite will then be deployed into low Earth orbit. The entire assembly and deployment process will occur in a fraction of the time necessary to construct, manifest, launch and deploy satellites from the ground.

“This is a fundamental shift for satellite production,” adds Andrew Rush, President of Made In Space. “In the near future, we envision that satellites will be manufactured quickly and to the customer’s exact needs, without being overbuilt to survive launch or have to wait for the next launch.”

The first steps of the Stash & Deploy system are slated for early 2016. Read all about both endeavors on Made In Space’s website here.

NASA advances CubeSat concept for planetary exploration

NASA is looking to explore other planets using loaf of bread-sized satellites.

Although scientists are increasingly using pint-size satellites sometimes no larger than a loaf of bread to gather data from low-Earth orbit, they have yet to apply the less-expensive small-satellite technology to observe physical phenomena far fromterra firma. That was until now at least, as NASA Goddard Space Flight Center technologist Jaime Esper is looking to give the highly-popular CubeSat concept that capability.


Dubbed the CubeSat Application for Planetary Entry Missions (CAPE), the concept involves the development of two modules: a service module that would propel the spacecraft to its celestial target and a separate planetary entry probe that could survive a rapid dive through the atmosphere of an extraterrestrial planet, all while reliably transmitting scientific and engineering data.

The CAPE spacecraft, including the service module and entry probe, will weigh less than 11 pounds and measure no more than four inches on a side. After being ejected from its ‘mothership,’ it will would spread its mini solar panels or run on internal battery power as it heads toward another planetary body. Upon reaching its destination, the service module will detach from the sensor-laden probe, where it will collect data like temperature and atmospheric pressure as it makes its way back to the mothership. This information will then be transmitted it to the ground station here on Earth.

“The CAPE concept is like no other CubeSat mission,” Esper explained. “It goes the extra step in delivering a complete spacecraft for carrying out scientific investigations. We are the only researchers working on a concept like this.”


CubeSats are small satellites, which are typically flown as auxiliary payloads on previously planned missions. Since these projects are relatively inexpensive to build and deploy, especially when compared to traditional multi-million-dollar satellites, NASA can conceivably launch several CAPEs to monitor the various aspects of a planet. As of now, the agency has sent more than 30 CubeSats into space over the last several years, with a backlog of more than 50 awaiting rides in the near future.

Before any of this can happen though, Esper has to prove this concept works. He will accomplish this by equipping the Micro-Reentry Capsule (MIRCA) craft with accelerometers, gyros, thermal and pressure sensors and radiometers, which monitors specific gases, and test its stability by dropping a prototype comprised only of the entry module from a high-altitude balloon this summer in Fort Sumner, New Mexico.

“If I can demonstrate the entry vehicle, I then could attract potential partners to provide the rest of the vehicle,” Esper adds. “The balloon drop of MIRCA will in itself mark the first time a CubeSat planetary entry capsule is flight tested, not only at Goddard, but anywhere else in the world. That, in turn, enables new opportunities in planetary exploration not available to date and represents a game-changing opportunity for Goddard.”

Want to learn more? Head over to its official page here.