One Giant Leap

3D Printed Satellites to be Made In Space

3d printed satellites

Company Made In Space is developing 3D printed satellites that can be manufactured in outer space and launched right into orbit.

3D printing in space is an absolute prerequisite for humanity to continue further space exploration, and to eventually become a multi-planetary civilization. Right now, however, the focus of such applications is confined to the the modernization of our satellite network. With large corporations racing to put thousands of small internet-distributing satellites into orbit, 3D printing seems like the safest and most cost-beneficial way to do it.

In this context, space 3D printing specialists Made In Space have partnered with Nanoracks, a low-orbit commercial services provider that has been collaborating with NASA since 2009. The partnership’s goal is to develop a feasible way to build highly customized “CubeSats” that will be 3D printed in outer space and get launched right into orbit from there.

This completely changes the way satellites are designed and built, as right now everything that needs to get into orbit must be built to withstand the gravitational pull of a rocket launch when launched into orbit. And even then, it can only get there through the expensive and political process of scheduling an orbital rocket launch. The cost per kilo to put a satellite into low orbit is a huge inhibiting factor that space 3D printing is going to relieve us from.

Made In Space have already tested their systems extensively through 400 parabolas of micro-gravity flights, and 30.000 hours of printing. Their first zero gravity 3D Printer is operating successfully in ISS since 2014. This model is about to be replaced by the newer and more capable Additive Manufacturing Facility (AMF) that is going to be launched at the end of this year.

The AMF will be the machine used to manufacture the CubeSats as well. The device can print aerospace grade composites and flexible polymers, while it is built to last and operate consistently for at least five years. The assembly portion of the AMF, however, is certainly going to be the most difficult, nail-biting phase of the process.