Two Years on the ISS: Additive Manufacturing Facility Celebrates Nearly 100 3D Printed Parts

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It’s been two years since Made In Space sent its second 3D printer, the Additive Manufacturing Facility (AMF) to the International Space Station. A great deal has been accomplished since then, with nearly 100 individual parts being manufactured for both private and commercial customers. These parts include everything from medical supplies to symbolic pink ribbons. In 2017, the AMF printed nearly every week, proving its worth as a dedicated and hardworking employee.

The AMF is a second-generation 3D printer and is thus more advanced than its predecessor, the first 3D printer to be sent into space. It keeps getting more advanced, too, thanks to a modular design that allows for continual upgrades. Right now it 3D prints with three different polymers: ABS, Green PE, and ULTEM; in the future, Made In Space plans to have it print with stronger and more complex materials such as metals, composites and carbon nanotube-doped materials.

Made In Space is currently the only company in the world to be manufacturing in space. Customers can commission 3D prints by digitally sending their designs to space, which saves money and improves efficiency since a rocket is not needed to transport the designs. The AMF is far more than an experiment – it’s an actual additive manufacturing facility, a service bureau that just happens to be located in outer space.

One major print job handled by the AMF over the past year was one commissioned by NASA for the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), an expandable module that stays compact during the journey to outer space but is filled with air and expands upon docking at the International Space Station. The BEAM is providing important data on expandable habitats, and researchers have been studying its ability to protect humans from space hazards such as debris and radiation.

The Additive Manufacturing Facility was responsible for manufacturing radiation shields in various thicknesses to cover sensors used in testing the effects of radiation onboard the BEAM, which is connected to the Earth-facing side of the International Space Station. The dome-shaped shields were 3D printed from ABS and each have a channel for holding the Radiation Environment Monitor (REM), which measures radiation.

The AMF has also been responsible for the fabrication and launch of several 3D printed CubeSats. The electronics for these small, cube-shaped satellites are sent to the International Space Station, where astronauts then 3D print the structural components and assemble them before launching. In the future, as the AMF continues to become more advanced, these astronauts should be able to 3D print the electronics themselves, meaning that transmission of CubeSats from Earth will be fully digital.

“The Additive Manufacturing Facility is an important technology for Made In Space. Not only does AMF provide mission readiness by removing months of wait times for mission-critical parts, pieces, and tools, the printer provides us with a testbed for some of our other technologies, like Archinaut and the Industrial Crystal Facility. Operating AMF for the last two years has been a great privilege. We look forward to continuing to do great work on station,” said Made In Space President and CEO Andrew Rush.

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[Images: Made In Space]

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