Tag Archives: made 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.

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 unboxes the first 3D-printed objects from space

Quincy Bean, the principal investigator for the space station printer, removes and inspects the first items made in space with a 3D printer.

Remember when the first 3D-printed objects in space touched down on Earth via SpaceX’s Dragon back on February 10, 2015? Well, now NASA has released a video showing the unboxing of the 21 parts that were manufactured aboard the International Space Station.


The Zero-G 3D Printing Demonstration, which is a collaboration between Silicon Valley-based Made In Space and NASA, represents the first steps toward realizing a print-on-demand “machine shop” for long-duration missions and sustaining human exploration of other planets, where there is extremely limited availability of Earth-based resupply and logistics support. In-space additive manufacturing technologies will ultimately help NASA explore Mars, asteroids, and other locations in the future.

“Before the printer was launched to the space station, it made an identical set of parts. Now, materials engineers will put both the space samples and ground control samples literally under a microscope and through a series of tests,” NASA writes.

In order to protect the space-manufactured items, they must remain in bags until inspection is complete and testing begins at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Once opened, project engineers will compare dimensions, layer thickness, layer adhesion, relative strength and relative flexibility between the identical items made in space and on Earth. From there, they will develop a database of mechanical properties, noting any difference in durability, strength, and structure.

Watch below as more than 20 parts were unboxed on April 6, 2015 at Marshall’s Additive Manufacturing Laboratory.

3D-printed tools from space are now on Earth for testing

Additive manufacturing in space is ready for take-off! 

We’ll know soon enough as to whether the wrenches that were 3D-printed aboard the International Space Station will be up to the mark. That’s because the objects arrived on Earth via SpaceX’s Dragon back on February 10, 2015 following the first phase of Made In Space and NASA’s 3D Printing in Zero-G Demonstration.


As previously discussed on Bits & Pieces, the study team used a printer specifically developed for use in microgravity, which extruded plastic filaments heated at lower temperatures. To conclude its initial testing phase, a ratchet wrench was printed using a design file transmitted from the ground to the printer. Samples, hardware and data from several biology and biotechnology studies were then returned with completion of the SpaceX contracted resupply mission for researchers to build on research that will enable further space exploration.

Here on Earth, the team will now have the opportunity to analyze a wide-range of newly 3D-printed wrenches, experimental data to enhance cooling systems and protein crystals and seedling samples — each of which will allow the scientists to improve upon existing studies. If successful, this will inch one step closer to approving 3D printers for future Mars manned missions, not to mention showcasing the potential of additive manufacturing in orbit.


While in zero gravity, researchers were investigating the use of crystallized cystic fibrosis protein and other closely-related proteins to improve drug therapies for the genetic disorder that causes severe damage to the lungs and digestive system, along with samples of seedling from plants grown in the station to aid in more efficient agricultural and bioenergy resources on Earth.

On the orbital laboratory, researchers also examined liquids at the verge of boiling to understand how the flow of heat in liquids behaves in microgravity. This is important to the development of cooling systems for space exploration with additional applications to waste disposal and recycling processes on Earth.


“For the printer’s final test in this phase of operations, NASA wanted to validate the process for printing on demand, which will be critical on longer journeys to Mars,” explained Niki Werkheiser, the space station 3D printer program manager at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. Insight from demonstrations in microgravity also may help improve 3D printing technology on Earth.

Undoubtedly, the scientific research delivered and returned by Dragon will pave the way for advancements in every aspect of the diverse space station science portfolio, ranging from biology and biotechnology to physical sciences and technology development. You can find an entire breakdown of the parts printed while aboard the ISS here, as well as read NASA’s official announcement here.

Made In Space completes first round of 3D prints on the ISS

After four months, here are all 25 parts that have been 3D-printed in space.

November 24th at 9:28pm GMT is a moment that Made In Space and the entire Maker community will never forget. It was the day that the crew completed the first functional 3D print outside of the Earth’s atmosphere. The historic Zero-G 3D printer arrived at the International Space Station (ISS) on September 23, 2014 and was activated on November 17, a week before making the replacement plastic faceplate for the machine’s own extruder system. Now a couple of months later, the Silicon Valley startup has revealed that has indeed finished its initial round of objects ranging from a calibration coupon to a ratchet. (The ratchet actually marked the first time in history an object had ever been emailed into space as well.)


“Although there were only 14 unique objects printed, 25 parts were printed in total. Duplicates were printed in order to determine the consistency of the printer over time,” the team wrote in a recent blog post. “The part that was printed the most was the ‘calibration coupon’ for a total of five times. Like a calibration page that standard inkjet printers print out when connected for the first time, the calibration coupon was used to verify that the 3D printer was working as expected. The ‘tensile test; was printed four times and both the ‘compression test’ and the ‘flex test’ were printed three times. Everything else was printed once.”

While the delivery of the 3D printer was an accomplishment in itself, the project demonstrates the basic fundamentals of useful manufacturing in space. Generally speaking, the devices extrude streams of heated plastic, metal or other material, building layer on top of layer to create three-dimensional item. By testing a 3D printer using relatively low-temperature plastic feedstock on the ISS, NASA hopes that one day astronauts will be able to create objects on-demand, rather than having to carry them into orbit. This will allow for a reduction of spare parts and mass on a spacecraft, which can ultimately change exploration mission architectures altogether. What’s more, astronauts can print these pieces from emails and downloaded files of 3D designs.


Aside from becoming the first demonstrate of additive manufacturing in space, NASA researchers say that the project provides:

  • A detailed analysis of how acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) thermoplastic resin behaves in microgravity
  • A comparison between additive manufacturing in Earth’s gravity and in consistent, long-term exposure to microgravity (insufficient in parabolic flights due to “print-pause” style of printing)
  • Advance the TRL of additive manufacturing processes to provide risk reduction, and capabilities, to future flight or mission development programs
  • The gateway to fabricating parts on-demand in space, thus reducing the need for spare parts on the mission manifest
  • A technology with the promise to provide a significant return on investment, by enabling future NASA missions that would not be feasible without the capability to manufacture parts in situ
  • The first step towards evolving additive manufacturing for use in space, and on Deep Space Missions


“Based on visual inspection and crew interaction, there were no significant print failures. If you have ever used a 3D printer before you probably realize just how incredible that first sentence is, especially when you then consider the fact that this 3D printer had to first withstand the forces of a rocket launch before printing anything. The successful printing was an incredibly rewarding outcome for the NASA and Made In Space engineering teams who strived to build a robust and hassle-free printer,” the Made In Space crew writes.

As for what the future holds, Made In Space plans on launching its Additive Manufacturing Facility (AMF) later this year, which the team says will not be a science experiment like its predecessor, but rather “a commercially available printer ready for use by anyone on Earth.” The AMF will be twice the size of the demo printer, and will be equipped to handle the manufacturing of larger, more complex objects with finer precision — and with multiple aerospace grade materials. Under the agreement for use of the commercial 3D printer on the ISS, Made In Space will own the machine, and NASA will be a customer paying to use it.

The initial success of the technology demonstration and the startup’s blueprint for the coming months provide a clear path forward in bringing advanced manufacturing capabilities into space. Interested in learning more? You can read Made In Space’s entire update, while also reviewing NASA’s report 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.

The first object has been 3D-printed in space

Mark this day in the history books: November 24th at 9:28pm GMT (1:28pm PST). That was the moment the team at Made In Space completed their first functional 3D print in space. What was the first object printed outside of the Earth’s atmosphere, you ask? A replacement plastic faceplate for the Zero­-G device’s own extruder system. It was created and installed right in the International Space Station.

“This first print is the initial step toward providing an on-demand machine shop capability away from Earth,” said Niki Werkheiser, NASA Project Manager.


This project demonstrates the basic fundamentals of useful manufacturing in space. The results of this experiment will serve as a stepping stone for significant future capabilities that will allow for the reduction of spare parts and mass on a spacecraft, which will change exploration mission architectures for the better,” explained Mike Snyder, Made In Space Director of R&D. “Manufacturing components on demand will yield more efficient, more reliable, and less Earth dependent space programs in the near future.”

Moving forward, the team aspires to print various items, each of which will be brought back down to our planet in 2015 and compared with counterparts that were printed here on Earth. This will help determine what differences there are in microgravity printing. Werkheiser has already noted that the newly-constructed part possesses stronger bonds of adhesion than originally anticipated, however the team is unsure at the moment as to whether the effects were caused by microgravity or “part of the normal fine-tuning process for printing.”


Back on November 17th, NASA astronaut and Expedition 42 commander Barry “Butch” Wilmore installed the Made In Space Zero-G 3D Printer and conducted the first calibration test print. Based on the results from its trial, the ground control team sent commands to realign the printer and printed a second calibration test on November 20th. These tests verified that the machine was ready for manufacturing operations.

Then, on November 24th, ground controllers sent the printer the command to make the first 3D-printed part, which demonstrated that the printer can indeed make replacement parts for itself. As its press release points out, the device used a process formally known as additive manufacturing to heat a relatively low-temperature plastic filament and extrude it one layer at a time to build the part defined in the design file sent to the machine.

This isn’t just your average desktop printer sealed up in a box and sent off into outer space. In fact, the 3D printer was put to the test by NASA with over 20,000 print hours of testing. The Made in Space 3D printer successfully completed its testing at Marshall this past April, and the flight hardware was turned over for flight integration. The printer was then delivered to the ISS in September via a Space X Dragon capsule.

“If a printer is critical for explorers, it must be capable of replicating its own parts, so that it can keep working during longer journeys to places like Mars or an asteroid,” added Werkheiser. “Ultimately, one day, a printer may even be able to print another printer.”


As Made In Space explains, while objects have been previously created in space, there has never been true, sustained manufacturing there. Years of testing and development have taught the team just how challenging an environment space would be for additive manufacturing.

“In 1957, Sputnik became the first man-made object in space and, 12 years later, that led to humans setting foot on the moon,” said Made In Space CEO Aaron Kemmer. “Now, in 2014, we’ve taken another significant step forward – we’ve started operating a machine that will lead us to continual manufacturing in space. Decades from now, people will look back to this event…it will be seen as the moment when the paradigm of how we get hardware to space changed.”

Well, this gives the term ‘Maker space’ a much more literal meaning! You can stay up-to-date with the Made In Space team here.



World’s first 3D printer in space has docked at the ISS

Well, this gives the term ‘Maker space’ quite the literal meaning. The first 3D printer set to leave the Earth’s atmosphere will blast off Saturday, September 20 at 2:16am ET aboard the SpaceX-4 Commercial Resupply Mission has officially docked at the International Space Station, according to a tweet from Mike Chen.

Loaded onto SpaceX’s unmanned Dragon cargo capsule along with nearly 5,000 pounds of supplies including mice and fruit flies, the 3D printer was destined for the ISS. This new creation experiment entitled, “3D printing in Zero-G Technology Demonstration,” is a proof-of-concept collaboration between NASA and California-based startup Made in Space, who developed the microwave-sized device.

“This initial version of the Zero-G Printer will serve as a test bed for understanding the long-term effects of microgravity on 3D printing, and how it can enable the future of space exploration. It is a culmination of contracts and development dating back to 2010 including microgravity tests with NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program, R&D contracts under NASA’s SBIR Programs, and development contracts with NASA MSFC,” the Made In Space team writes.


The 3D printing device possesses a build volume of 50mm X 100mm X 50mm and will be ABS only. A second model, contracted for the ISS in 2015, will support multiple materials and a larger build volume, MAKE Magazine reveals. Many of the features of the Made In Space Portal can be found on current consumer 3D printers — many of which powered by Atmel MCUs — including an enclosed build volume with polycarbonate windows, remote video monitoring, and remote printing via ground control.

However, as MAKE explains, 3D printing in space requires an extra level of features such as ruggedization to survive launch, thermal management, air filtration and optimization for printing in microgravity. The Made in Space team has flown over 400 microgravity parabolas and conducted 30,000 hours of testing in preparing the Portal for launch.

The goal is to provide astronauts with the ability to quickly and cheaply manufacture parts on-demand while in space. 3D printers build objects layer by layer out of metal, plastic, composites and other materials, using a technique called extrusion additive manufacturing. NASA hopes Made in Space’s device works normally aboard the station, thus demonstrating that 3D printers can produce high-quality parts in space as well as on Earth. If all goes well, this mission will help lay the foundation for a broader scale of efforts in space to eventually include an entire manufacturing facility.

“The on-demand capability can revolutionize the constrained supply chain model we are limited to today and will be critical for exploration missions,” Niki Werkheiser, NASA’s 3D Print Project Manager, noted in a recent statement.


This isn’t just your average desktop printer sealed up in a box and sent off into outer space. In fact, the 3D printer was put to the test by NASA with over 20,000 print hours of testing. The Made in Space 3D printer successfully completed its testing at Marshall this past April, and the flight hardware was turned over for flight integration. “NASA is great at planning for component failures and contingencies; however, there’s always the potential for unknown scenarios that you couldn’t possibly think of ahead of time,” Ken Cooper, Principal Investigator at Marshall for 3D Printing explained. Therefore, a 3D printer with the capability of creating replacement parts at a moment’s notice could revolutionize modern space exploration.

“This project is an ideal example of how government and small businesses can work together to develop new technologies,” adds Werkheiser. “In this example, NASA and Made in Space worked hand-in-hand and that partnership culminated in the rapid development of a brand new technology for in-space applications – all performed ahead of schedule and within budget. NASA was able to provide guidance and insight on how to design the system to successfully pass the stringent space flight certification and safety process and operations constraints. NASA also performed all of the certification testing at Marshall Space Flight Center. Made in Space is innovative and responsive which resulted in the capability to perform rapid iteration design.”

Not only will the printer decrease cost, but it also will decrease risk — and increase efficiency. According to researchers, it will likely take the 3D printer anywhere between 15 minutes to an hour to print something aboard the space station, contingent upon the size and complexity of the object. Blueprints for desired parts can be loaded onto the machine before launch or beamed up from the ground.

The 3D printer will integrate into the Microgravity Science Glovebox (MSG) on the International Space Station, and will provide a 28V DC power and 200W cooling capacity. Astronauts will have access to remove prints and change filament cartridges as well as perform maintenance tasks, such as replacing a clogged print head or the electronics.

Writing for Benzinga, Tabitha Jean Naylor recently listed five ways NASA engineers are using 3D printing:

Battery Mounting Plate: Perhaps not the most exciting name for a NASA project, but this critical component is used in a very specific sounding rocket mission. It is a relatively small plate, about six inches by six inches, and has a series of small upright posts surrounding its edge. It has already been put to use for testing thermal control devices and was generated by way of 3D printing, using a material known as polyetherketoneketone.

Space Printing in 3D: Although it isn’t in production yet, NASA and its Marshall Space Flight Center are currently in the development stages of what will ultimately be the first space-ready 3D printer. The “Made In Space” program being run by the Flight Center is making plans to take the printer to the International Space Station once it has been manufactured, which is expected to be sometime this fall. The purpose of the experiment is to test the effects of microgravity on 3D printing.

Integrated Circuitry: The Goddard Space Flight Center, another branch of the expansive space agency, has developed what it is calling a “system on a chip,” which is essentially a hyper-efficient microchip processor created by a 3D printer through which spacecraft circuitry can be programmed. These systems operate on less than a half watt of power and can be used for spacecraft, as well as on ground control systems and electronics boards.

Advanced Materials: Most people have never heard of Invar, but it is a revolutionary material that is entirely resistant to expansion and contraction caused by temperature extremes that usually affect other materials. It will be the first object created by additive manufacturing that uses this highly advanced material.

Circuitry Protection: One of the most pervasive problems that NASA has had to deal is damage sustained by the circuitry onboard its spacecraft as a result of inevitable space radiation exposure. Engineers at Goddard have developed what they call “spot shields,” which are essentially small pieces that look similar to a steel bolt and are generated with 3D printers. They collectively act as a protective shield for critical onboard circuits against radiation.

From here to the moon, Atmel’s AVR XMEGA to megaAVR microcontrollers continue to be at the heart of a number of 3D printers. Last Fall, we were fortunate enough to have Made in Space’s Jason Dunn here in our San Jose headquarters as he discussed the company’s efforts of sending a printer into space. Well, it looks like those visions will soon become a reality in the forthcoming days. To Maker infinity and beyond!

For more information about the 3D printing in Zero-G Technology Demonstration, you can view the NASA issued statement here.

Made in Space 3D printing startup speaks at Atmel

Friday saw quite a buzz here at Atmel when founders of the start-up Made in Space participated at a speaking event.


Atmel hosted start-up Made in Space to talk about their 3-D printer.

The first-floor training room was packed. In attendance was the Mayor of Mountain View, a retired astronaut and people from NBC News. Made in Space founder Jason Dunn talked about how useful it would be to have a manufacturing method in space. In keeping with the recent craze for 3D printing, Made in Space is well along the way to sending a 3D-printer to space.


Jason Dunn expands and explains his rationale for putting a 3D printer in space.

At first the team tried to adapt an existing 3D printer for space use. They rented time on those parabolic flights where you are weightless for a minute or two. Every 3D printer they tried had severe limitations. Indeed a recent review in Product Design and Development indicates that many 3-D printers don’t work on Earth, much less in orbit. You can see how if a 3D printer needs to be precisely leveled in order to not damage itself, there is little chance it would ever work in space. And don’t forget a 3D printer intended for space use will need to withstand the G-force of launch.


There was a definite startup vibe in the room. I’ve been to those edgy companies that scribble directly on the wall. I guess brown paper serves when you are on the road.

Now last time I checked it was $10,000 a pound to put something into orbit. So the business case for 3D printing in space is that you make parts that you need as you need them. Jason maintains that 3D printing could make 30% of the spare parts on the Space Station. I find that a little hard to believe. Let’s face it, 3D printing makes inferior structural components that have nowhere near the properties of injection molded or machined parts. The space program uses Delrin and polyamide and thermoset high-performance engineering plastics. To my knowledge the “additive string” type of printer cannot use these high-zoot engineering thermoplastics. Even if they did, the resulting parts are never as strong as an injection molded part.


There was a healthy crowd at the Atmel-sponsored function.

Still, you can see how compelling it is to be able to manufacture in space. You can check out Jason’s TEDx talk to see his vision. The second he started his presentation here at Atmel, I could not help but think of the Apollo 13 disaster. If only those astronauts had a 3D printer, they could have easily made a part to adapt the Command module CO2 scrubber canisters to the Lunar module design. Sure enough, the Made in Space people also thought of this scenario. So they gave an intern the job to design and build a part that would have done the job. It took him less than an hour to design the part and the printer had the part built in a few hours more. That would sure have lowered the blood pressure of those three stranded astronauts. And Jason noted that it is the ground crew that can be designing the parts, further offloading the astronauts so they can concentrate on the space-based tasks that they need to get done.