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Metal 3D Printing Company COSM to Design Electron Beam System for NASA Space Manufacturing Program

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Rendering of Archinaut [Image: Made In Space]

The future of human space exploration depends on our ability to manufacture in space – and we’re making good progress in that area, with 3D printers installed on the International Space Station and technology in the works to 3D print habitats on the moon and Mars. What we also need, however, are robots to do much of the actual manufacturing for us. Space travel is time-consuming work, and having automated maintenance and construction systems in place could greatly lessen the burden on astronauts themselves.

In addition, robots have the ability to do things that humans cannot do – like actually build structures in the middle of outer space. That’s why projects like Made In Space’s multi-armed, 3D printing space robot Archinaut are in development, so that equipment such as satellites can actually be built and maintained automatically in space instead of launched from Earth. This allows for the development of larger, more advanced and complex systems that could not feasibly be launched from Earth into space. Now NASA is establishing a new program that will bring several partners together to further advance robotic manufacturing in space.

NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) is working to create what it’s calling a “Commercial Infrastructure for Robotic Assembly and Services,” or CIRAS. A public-private partnership will form to develop technologies geared towards in-orbit manufacturing and assembly of large space structures that will further human and robotic space exploration.

One of those partners will be COSM Advanced Manufacturing Systems, a research engineering and manufacturing company based in Massachusetts. Among its other areas of focus, metal 3D printing is a specialty of COSM, which has been chosen by NASA to design an electron beam system for CIRAS. COSM has already been working with the NASA Langley Research Center’s Electron Beam Freeform Fabrication (EBF3) program, which uses focused electron beams and a dual wire feed to manufacture metal structures from materials including titanium, aluminum and Inconel.

The EBF3 program has already been leveraged to manufacture parts for fighter jets, and COSM has also developed enabling technology for an advanced Electron Beam metal 3D printing system that provides in-situ metrology and adaptive process control for end users in commercial, large space and aerospace applications. The company will join with CIRAS to further develop the technology for in-space autonomous assembly.

NASA Chief Technologist Bobby Braun with the EBF3 system. [Image: NASA/Sean Smith]

“The assembly and fabrication of structures in space under autonomous robotic control, is of course extremely challenging.  Our effort focuses on development of the electron gun and optics and beam control and metrology systems for this application,” said Richard Comunale, Founder and President of COSM. “We are excited and proud of the opportunity to bring our unique expertise to this project.”

COSM was founded in 2011 and, in addition to advanced metal 3D printing technology, also specializes in particle beam and thin film CVD systems for semiconductor, flat panel and LED manufacturing systems. COSM’s work with CIRAS is being funded by a contract from the Langley Research Center in partnership with Orbital ATK, NASA’s Glenn Research Center, and the US Naval Research Laboratory. Discuss in the COSM forum at 3DPB.com.

 

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