Spaceflight Mission SpaceX CRS-4
Zero Gravity Printer (3DP)
The Zero Gravity Printer (3DP) served as a proof-of-concept test of the properties of melt deposition modeling additive manufacturing in the microgravity environment of the International Space Station (ISS). This demonstration is the first step towards realizing a machine shop in space, a critical enabling component of any Deep Space Mission. 3DP, a product of Made In Space, Inc. (MIS), was acquired by NASA through a Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) Phase III contract. The goal of this mission was to raise the technology readiness level (TRL) of the printer technology from 5 to 6, making it the first demonstration of additive manufacturing in space. The lessons learned from this technology demonstration were applied to the next generation of melt deposition modeling in the permanent Additive Manufacturing Facility (AMF), as well as for any future additive manufacturing technology.
The mission provided valuable insights, including:
- The first demonstration of additive manufacturing in space
- 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)
- Advanced 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
Spaceflight Mission Cygnus OA-6
Additive Manufacturing Facility (AMF)
The Additive Manufacturing Facility (AMF) is a permanent manufacturing facility on the ISS, providing hardware manufacturing services. AMF is twice the size of its predecessor 3D printer. The ability to manufacture on the ISS enables on-demand repair and production capability, as well as research for manufacturing on long-term missions. AMF allows for immediate repair of essential components, upgrades of existing hardware, installation of new hardware that is manufactured, and the manufacturing capability to support commercial interests on the ISS.
Additive manufacturing is the process of building a part layer-by-layer, with an efficient use of the material. The process leads to a reduction in cost, mass, labor and production time. The ISS crew utilize AMF to perform station maintenance, build tools, and repair sections of the station in case of an emergency. The AMF uses an extrusion-based “3D printing” method, which Made in Space has already tested in zero-gravity with successful results. The AMF is capable of producing components from a variety of space-rated composites. This versatility allows for a variety of components and devices to be manufactured, enabling the mentioned uses to be applicable as well as unforeseen uses to be developed.
Using replaceable subassemblies, the AMF is designed so that it could easily be upgraded to add new functionality and manufacturing methods in the future. The AMF is designed to last the entire lifetime of the ISS. The AMF printer is designed to work with a wide range of various extrudable materials including flexible polymers and aerospace grade composites. Designed to operate in an EXPRESS Rack middeck locker, the printer is always easily accessible by crew .
Spaceflight Mission SpaceX CRS-13
Optical Fiber Production in Microgravity Experiment (OFPIM)
The Optical Fiber Production in Microgravity Experiment (OFPIM) demonstrates the scientific and commercial merit of manufacturing novel optical fiber material in the microgravity environment on the International Space Station (ISS). The optical fiber chosen for production in microgravity aboard the ISS is the high value optical fiber, ZBLAN. Research indicates that ZBLAN produced in a microgravity environment exhibits significant improvement its performance as fiber optic fiber material. The resulting structure of the material provides further information for the future manufacture of these materials in microgravity.
OFPIM is attempting to pull fiber optic wire from ZBLAN, a heavy metal fluoride glass commonly used to make fiber optic glass. When ZBLAN is solidified in a one-G environment, its atomic structure tends to form into crystals. Research indicates that ZBLAN fiber pulled in microgravity may not crystalize as much, giving it better optical qualities than the silica used in most fiber optic wire.
The Archinaut One mission, announced in July 2019, will represent the debut flight mission for Made In Space’s flagship in-space manufacturing platform, Archinaut. This mission will demonstrate the ability of a small spacecraft, called Archinaut One, to manufacture and assemble spacecraft components in low-Earth orbit. Archinaut One is expected to launch on a Rocket Lab Electron rocket no earlier than 2022. Once it’s positioned in low-Earth orbit, the spacecraft will 3D-print two beams that extend 32 feet (10 meters) out from each side of the spacecraft. As manufacturing progresses, each beam will unfurl two solar arrays that generate as much as five times more power than traditional solar panels on spacecraft of similar size.
The potential of this technology includes such benefits as:
- Enabling remote, in-space construction of communications antennae, large-scale space telescopes and other complex structures;
- Enabling small satellites to deploy large surface area power systems and reflectors that currently are reserved for larger satellites;
- Eliminating spacecraft volume limits imposed by rockets;
- Avoiding the inherent risk of spacewalks by performing some tasks currently completed by astronauts.