For the first time in history, NASA will launch a 3D printer to the International Space Station (ISS) under the 3D Printing In Zero-G Technology Demonstration, which is laying the ground work for developing an on-demand machine shop for current and future deep-space missions.
NASA partnered with Made In Space, maker of the first space-bound 3D printer, via Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) grant to purchase the 3D Printing In Zero-G payload. The ultimate goal is to advance the Made In Space printer to Technology Readiness Level (TRL) 6, which would enable the adoption of additive manufacturing in space.
Made In Space engineers customized the Engineering Test Unit (ETU) printer in just six months, and then performed developmental testing, including rigorous environmental and functional testing to confirm the hardware could survive launch and function in microgravity
This month, the Made In Space 3D printer specially designed for use on the ISS passed final NASA certifications and testing ahead of schedule. NASA staff conducted Electromagnetic Interference (EMI), vibration, materials compliance, human factors, and electrical tests, as well as ISS interface checks, and certified that the hardware meets all necessary operational standards.
“NASA was able to provide key guidance on how to best comply with strenuous space certification, safety and operational requirements and Made In Space excelled at incorporating that insight into the design,” according to Niki Werkheiser, NASA 3D Print Project Manager. “As a result, the hardware passed testing with flying colors. Made In Space now has first-hand experience of the full ‘A-to-Z’ process for designing, building, and testing hardware for spaceflight.”
This achievement prompted officials to accelerate the launch of the printer. It was originally slated for SpaceX CRS-5, but has been moved to the SpaceX CRS-4 launch slated for August 2014 – in less than two months’ time. This mil/aero geek is anxious for the team to achieve the historic milestone of manufacturing in space.