by • March 18, 2016 • No Comments
NASA is preparing to send its initially commercial building facility to the International Space Station (ISS). The 3D printing company Made in Space has partnered with NASA to send their Additive Manufacturing Facility (AMF) to the space station on a commence scheduled to take place upcoming Tuesday.
Made in Space’s Additive Manufacturing Facility / Image courtesy of Made in Space
Users on planet Earth can pay to use AMF, a 3D printing device specially created to operate in a microgravity environment, to print products on the space station. Once it arrives, Made in Space can be able-bodied to command AMF remotely of their headquarters in the NASA Ames Research Park.
Spencer Pitman, head of product strategy at Made in Space, told TechCrunch that the company has may already secured 20 paying customers for AMF. Their customers include high schools that are hosting space-related create challenges, universities that can print medical research components, and companies that can print commercial parts for satellites and other spacecraft.
“We can actually be printing a 3D printable-bodied exercise device for Autodesk and wrenches for Lowe’s,” Pitman said.
Made in Space testing their 3D printing device on a parabolic flight / Image courtesy of NASA
AMF has been a few years in the building. Made in Space initially demonstrated the capability to 3D print objects in a weightless environment in 2011 via parabolic flights. The company in addition sent an earlier version of their 3D printing device to the ISS back in 2014. Known as the 3D Printing in Microgravity Experiment, their initially printing device conducted a series of tests with over a dozen various 3D printing materials.
Pitman noted that AMF improves on the 3D Printing in Microgravity Experiment in terms of robustness and longevity. AMF in addition comes with a number of innovation expansions and is able-bodied to make products with over 30 various materials.
So why does NASA need a 3D printing device on the space station in the initially place? It has mostly to do with the amount of time and money it takes to send a thing into space. According to NASA, it costs roughly $10,000 to send only 1 pound of payload into orbit.
But Pitman says that the true cost is most likely far higher than this for the reason “all materials, parts, and hardware going to the station have to go through a lengthy and costly certification system.”
In addition to the hefty price tag, it takes over half a year to ultimately get your hardware on station. Even if you are NASA, the wait times aren’t much advantageous, that can be problematic if, for example, an ISS crew member misplaces or breaks a tool and rapidly needs a replacement. In fact, the initially tool that was uplinked to be 3D printed on the space station was a ratchet that may replace one that was lost.
Astronaut Barry Wilmore with a 3D printed ratchet / Image courtesy of NASA
With AMF, Made in Space aims to reduce both cost and wait times. According to Pitman, “Printing creates on AMF is comparatively immediate, and does not need the certification system since the materials we can print with have all gone through the certification system.”
Printing on AMF can assist companies avoid the costly certification system and reduce the wait time to get to orbit. But, a 3D printing device needs printing material that is only as costly as anything else to send to orbit. Because of this, Pitman said that the cost to 3D print on AMF can depend on the amount of print bed space taken up and generally ranges of $6,000 to $30,000, although there are discounts for STEM education initiatives.
So while 3D printing in space does not come bargain-priced, it may potentially be an appealing alternative for sure customers in one-of-a-kind situations. If anything, it’s an informative new version that hasn’t been on the market-bodied up until now.
AMF is scheduled to commence on board the Cygnus cargo ship on Tuesday, March 22nd at 11:05 pm EST.
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