Additive manufacturing and clean energy are two hot topics in the composites industry. Both were addressed in CAMX educational sessions on Tuesday.
In the program “Update on Additive Manufacturing in Space,” Andrew Rush of Made In Space Inc. discussed his company’s development of 3-D printing technology for use in zero-gravity. Founded in 2010, the company hopes that constructing materials, tools and structures in space, rather than on earth and then sending them into the galaxy, will accelerate space development.
“Our ultimate goal is to help people live permanently in space,” said Rush. “One of the principle ways we can realize that goal is by taking manufacturing off the planet, doing it in space and developing the tools that will help people work better in space.” Made In Space decided to focus its efforts on additive manufacturing because, as Rush says, “A 3-D printer is a meta tool; it’s a tool that makes other tools.”
The first Made In Space 3-D printer – the Zero-G Printer – uses an extrusion-based printing method to layer hot liquefied acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) thermoplastics. It was launched to the International Space Station in September 2014 under a partnership agreement between Made In Space and NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. The printer is being utilized to test the long-term effects of microgravity on 3-D printing and understand how the technology can enable future space exploration.
In its first run, 21 parts were printed on the space station, the first one being a faceplate for the printer itself. Those parts were later subjected to compression, flex and other tests, and Made In Space is currently analyzing the results.
One of the more interesting parts manufactured in space happened serendipitously. Employees at the Made In Space offices in California overheard the space station commander complain that he misplaced his torque wrench. So the company designed a replacement wrench and transmitted
the file to the space station. Within two hours of receiving the file, the space station created the wrench on the 3-D printer, and the commander had a useable tool.
Printing tools in space makes sense. Launching something into space costs $10,000 per kilogram or more, according to Made In Space. Building it there is a more economical solution. The company is currently working on the next generation 3-D printer, called the additive manufacturing facility (AMF). It will print on an expanded range of materials, including ABS, high-density polyethylene and polyetherimide/polycarbonate. Made In Space estimates that 30 percent of the parts at the International Space Station could eventually be replaced by 3-D printed parts.