How time flies. It’s hard to believe, but it’s been an entire year since Made In Space launched its Additive Manufacturing Facility to the International Space Station. Yet while it seems as though the company’s second 3D printer went out into space just last week, the Additive Manufacturing Facility has accomplished so much since then that it’s also tough to believe that it’s only been a year. Since the 3D printer was installed on the International Space Station, 39 prints have been made for customers, with many of them claiming the title of “first (insert type of object here) to be 3D printed in space.” And that’s not counting the parts that were 3D printed for ISS use alone.
“I’d describe our prints last year as trailblazers, since they were all made in orbit for the first time and we were exploring how best to utilize AMF,” said Matt Napoli, MIS Vice President of In-Space Operations. “This year, we expect more advanced prints as we push the envelope of what’s possible with it. We’ve started to print in a new, space-suitable material in PEI/PC (polyetherimide/polycarbonate), giving us the capability to manufacture stronger, more heat-resistant structures.”
Let’s take a look at a few of those trailblazing 3D prints:
In June, the military saw its first design 3D printed in space when the US Navy sent the 3D file for the TruClip to the ISS. The small clip was designed by Navy personnel aboard the USS Harry S. Truman aircraft carrier to replace the constantly breaking clasps on handheld radios, saving the Navy thousands of dollars in total. NASA was intrigued by the clips, which cost six cents each to 3D print, and during the National Maker Faire in Washington D.C., the Navy proudly beamed the design up to the ISS.
Also in June, the first student-designed part was 3D printed in space. R.J. Hillan was the winner of the very first Future Engineers 3D Printing in Space Challenge, which has had several iterations since then, and a year and a half after his Multi-Purpose Precision Maintenance Tool (MPMT) was announced as the winning piece, he watched from NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center as his design was 3D printed aboard the International Space Station.
In July, astronauts aboard the ISS 3D printed a wrench. That’s great, you might think, but hadn’t they 3D printed several tools, including at least one wrench, already? Yes, but this wrench was special because it was the first commercial part to be 3D printed in space. With the name of toolmaker Kobalt emblazoned on its side, the tool was 3D printed for Lowe’s and represented a new era of commercialization in zero gravity.
In January of this year, the first medical supplies were 3D printed in space. Dr. Julielynn Wong and her company 3D4MD achieved a longstanding goal and a history-making moment when the AMF 3D printed a customized finger splint. The splint was chosen as finger injuries are frequent among astronauts, and research has shown that the best treatment for the common “mallet finger” is a custom-fit splint – which astronauts on the ISS can now make for themselves.
In February of this year, the first piece of art was 3D printed in space in the out-of-this-world culmination of Eyal Gever’s #Laugh project, which began in December with an app that allowed people to record their laughter and transform the recording into a 3D model. The winning 3D model was submitted by Naughtia Jane Stanko of Las Vegas. The 3D file of her “laugh star,” as it was called, was sent digitally to the ISS, where it was 3D printed on the AMF. The first work of art to be created in zero gravity, which looked somewhat like a floating doughnut, is now orbiting our planet.
Those are just a few of the monumental moments that have taken place since the Additive Manufacturing Facility arrived on the ISS last March, and we can expect a lot more as the 3D printer enters its second year in space.
Andrew Rush, Made In Space President and CEO. “That’s really amazing when you think about it – manufacturing more and more complex parts with this core technology. Many people are still surprised when they learn our country is already making things in space. Our NASA customer has been great over the past few years, embracing this technology and supporting us its development. As we continue printing in stronger materials like PEI/PC, we’ll start to see even more breakthrough achievements.”“Every week we’re operating with AMF aboard ISS,” said
Last year, Made In Space expanded its material capabilities beyond ABS and began 3D printing with Green PE, or polyethylene, supplied by Braskem. We can expect to see parts 3D printed in many more materials emerge from the ISS in the coming months and years; plans include parts made from metals, composites, and carbon nanotube-doped materials. With the AMF’s capabilities diversifying and increasing in complexity, we can expect to see a lot more “firsts” as well. Discuss in the AMF forum at 3DPB.com.