3D Printing in Space: Florida Institutes to Research Advanced Materials and Manufacturing for Space Exploration

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In an effort to strengthen the United States through manufacturing, the government established the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation, better known as Manufacturing USA, in 2014. As several of these Manufacturing USA institutes are linked to 3D printing, we follow them rather closely, and now NASA is launching a similar initiative – albeit much smaller in scale – dedicated to space exploration and research.

The Space Technology Research Institutes (STRI) will be composed of multiple universities forming two institutes: one dedicated to researching biological engineering in space, and one dedicated to the development of next-generational materials. Most recently, Florida State University’s High-Performance Materials Institute (HPMI) and the Florida A&M University–Florida State University College of Engineering have joined the initiative.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for our faculty researchers and students to participate in a project that pushes the boundaries of science and will have a major impact on space travel and exploration,” said Gary K. Ostrander, Vice President for Research at HPMI. “FSU’s High-Performance Materials Institute was designed to explore the possibilities and uses of next-generation materials, and this project will allow them to apply their expertise in an exciting way.”

HPMI is a multidisciplinary research institute staffed mostly by faculty from the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering, and will receive funding for research towards advanced materials and manufacturing techniques, such as 3D printing. In particular, the institute will work on the development of carbon nanotube-based structural materials that can be used to create vehicles, power systems and even habitats for use in missions to the moon and Mars, for example.

The money will help to fund several graduate students as well as one postdoctoral researcher.

“The High-Performance Materials Institute is a leader in developing advanced nanocomposites and additive manufacturing that will be critical for man’s extended presence in deep space,” FAMU-FSU College of Engineering Dean J. Murray Gibson said. “Because of this grant, our students will have unique opportunities to participate in an exciting future major space program.”

The Space Technology Research Institutes project will invest $15 million in each institute over a period of five years. The funding will be distributed among the partner universities comprising the institutes, which so far include:

  • The University of Utah
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Johns Hopkins University
  • Georgia Institute of Technology
  • University of Minnesota
  • Pennsylvania State University
  • University of Colorado
  • Virginia Commonwealth University

In addition, industrial partners include Nanocomp Technologies and Solvay, as well as the US Air Force Research Lab.

HPMI has been designated as an Industry/University Cooperative Research Center by the National Science Foundation and as a Center of Excellence by the Florida Board of Governors. The institute, as its name suggests, is dedicated to the development of advanced materials for multiple industries and technologies, but for the next few years at least, it looks like there’s going to be a heavy focus on outer space – and likely on 3D printing. It’s rare to encounter a discussion of traveling to the moon or Mars without 3D printing talk as well, whether it’s in relation to rocket engines or medical tools or even lunar housing. 

“It’s exciting to know that I could have a student who could get experience here on this project and then potentially work on the mission to Mars in the future,” said Tarik Dickens, an assistant professor at the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering who is also working on the project.

Six faculty members from the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering will work with the STRI, which will be led by Professor Gregory Odegard at Michigan Technological University. HPMI Director and FAMU-FSU College of Engineering Professor Richard Liang will act as an area leader and principal investigator for the college. Discuss in the Florida State forum at 3DPB.com.

[Source: Florida State University]

 

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