3D Printing In Zero-G Technology Demonstration (3D Printing In Zero-G) - 12.06.17

Overview | Description | Applications | Operations | Results | Publications | Imagery

ISS Science for Everyone

Science Objectives for Everyone
The 3D Printing In Zero-G Technology Demonstration (3D Printing In Zero-G) experiment demonstrates that a 3D printer works normally in space. In general, a 3D printer extrudes streams of heated plastic, metal or other material, building layer on top of layer to create 3 dimensional objects. Testing a 3D printer using relatively low-temperature plastic feedstock on the International Space Station is the first step towards establishing an on-demand machine shop in space, a critical enabling component for deep-space crewed missions and in-space manufacturing.
Science Results for Everyone
Space station or manufacturing plant? Three-dimensional printing offers a fast and inexpensive way to manufacture parts on-site and on-demand, a huge benefit to long-term missions with restrictions on weight and room for cargo. After testing of hardware for 3D printing on parabolic flights from Earth resulted in parts similar to those made on the ground, the next step was testing aboard the space station. The test included printing items designed by students and results showed that 3D printers work normally in space. This work will contribute to establishing on-demand manufacturing on long space missions and improving 3D printing methods on the ground. 

The following content was provided by Quincy Bean, and is maintained in a database by the ISS Program Science Office.
Experiment Details

OpNom: 3D Printing In Zero-G

Principal Investigator(s)
Quincy Bean, Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, AL, United States

Michael P. Snyder, M.S. Aeronautical & Astronautical Engineering, Made in Space, Moffett Field, CA, United States
Jason J. Dunn, M.S. Aerospace Engineering, Made in Space, Moffett Field, CA, United States

NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, AL, United States
Made In Space, Inc., Moffett Field, CA, United States

Sponsoring Space Agency
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

Sponsoring Organization
Technology Demonstration Office (TDO)

Research Benefits
Information Pending

ISS Expedition Duration
September 2014 - September 2015; March 2016 - September 2016

Expeditions Assigned

Previous Missions
Information Pending

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Experiment Description

Research Overview

The 3D Printing In Zero-G Technology Demonstration serves as a proof-of-concept test of the properties of melt deposition modeling additive manufacturing in the microgravity environment of the International Space Station (ISS). The lessons learned from this technology demonstration can be applied in the next generation of melt deposition modeling in the permanent NanoRacks Additive Manufacturing Facility (AMF), as well as for any future additive manufacturing technology. This includes any future additive manufacturing technologies NASA may plan to use, such as metals or electronics in-space manufacturing, on both the ISS and Deep Space Missions. This demonstration is the first step towards realizing a machine shop in space, a critical enabling component of any Deep Space Mission. The 3D Printing In Zero-G payload is a product of commercial company Made In Space, Inc. (MIS), and will be acquired by NASA through a Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) Phase III contract.  The project's goal is to raise the technology readiness level (TRL) of the 3D Printing In Zero-G printer technology from 5 to 6, making it the first demonstration of additive manufacturing in space. In addition, the lessons learned are infused into industry with the production of the permanent Additive Manufacturing Facility (AMF).

This project provides:
  • The first demonstration of additive manufacturing in space
  • A detailed analysis of how acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) thermoplastic resin behaves in microgravity
  • A comparison between additive manufacturing in Earth’s gravity and in consistent, long-term exposure to microgravity (insufficient in parabolic flights due to “print-pause” style of printing)
  • Advance the TRL of additive manufacturing processes to provide risk reduction, and capabilities, to future flight or mission development programs
  • The gateway to fabricating parts on-demand in space, thus reducing the need for spare parts on the mission manifest
  • A technology with the promise to provide a significant return on investment, by enabling future NASA missions that would not be feasible without the capability to manufacture parts in situ
  • The first step towards evolving additive manufacturing for use in space, and on Deep Space Missions.

In addition to safely integrating into the Microgravity Science Glovebox (MSG), the 3D Print requirements include the production of a 3D multi-layer object(s) that generate data (operational parameters, dimensional control, mechanical properties) to enhance understanding of the 3D printing process in space. Thus, some of the prints were selected to provide information on the tensile, flexure, compressional, and torque strength of the printed materials and objects. Coupons to demonstrate tensile, flexure, and compressional strength were chosen from the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) standards. Multiple copies of these coupons are planned for printing to obtain knowledge of strength variance and the implications of feedstock age. Each printed part is compared to a duplicate part printed on Earth. These parts are compared in dimensions, layer thickness, layer adhesion, relative strength, and relative flexibility. Data obtained in the comparison of Earth- and space-based printing are used to refine Earth-based 3D printing technologies for terrestrial and space-based applications.

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Space Applications
3D printing serves as a fast and inexpensive way to manufacture parts on-site and on-demand, reducing the need for costly spares on the International Space Station and future spacecraft. Long-term missions would benefit greatly from having onboard manufacturing capabilities. Data and experience gathered in this demonstration improve future 3-dimensional manufacturing technology and equipment for the space program, allowing a greater degree of autonomy and flexibility for astronauts.

Earth Applications
The experiment compares 3D printed objects made on Earth with those made in microgravity. Insight into how 3D printing works in microgravity could improve 3D printing methods for industry. The experiment includes student activities, in particular a project allowing students to design items to be 3D printed on the space station by crew members.

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Operational Requirements and Protocols

A 28 volts direct current is supplied by MSG which also provides air circulation cooling capability of 200 watts. Crew is required to remove prints from print tray and bag prints after a print is completed. They are lso required for maintenance of the printer, from changing the feedstock cartridge to replacing a clogged print head or electronics box. Video camera monitors, from the ground, the printing process through the 3D Print’s polycarbonate windows, and interface with MSG laptop, uplink capability for the 21st planned print.

Control of the printer hardware includes: software on the MSG laptop, uplink from the ground, and a physical on/off switch on the printer. Video monitoring of the printing process is conducted from the ground. A concept of operations and training video will accompany the printer.

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Decadal Survey Recommendations

Information Pending

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Results/More Information

Earth based testing utilizing parabolic flights of the 3D Printing in Zero G hardware was able to yield parts similar to ground based units under varying conditions. The results of these tests ended with the selection of the Made in Space unit being selected as the hardware for the ISS investigation.

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Results Publications

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Ground Based Results Publications

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ISS Patents

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Related Publications

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Related Websites
Made in Space

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NASA Image: ISS042e046048 - NASA Astronaut Barry (Butch) Wilmore holds a 3-D printed ratchet wrench from the new 3-D printer aboard the International Space Station. The printer completed the first phase of a NASA technology demonstration by printing a tool with a design file that was transmitted from the ground to the printer.

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image NASA Image: ISS042E006685 - 3D Printer set up inside the Microgravity Science Glovebox (MSG) in the Destiny U.S. Laboratory.
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The 3D Printer during testing in the Microgravity Science Glovebox (MSG) Engineering Unit at Marshall Space Flight Center. (NASA Image)

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3D Printing team members monitor the performance of extruders inside the Made In Space experiment box during a microgravity portion of flight aboard a modified Boeing 727 from the Zero G Corporation.  Image courtesy of Made In Space, Inc.

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