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Industy News| NASA PUBLISHES FINDINGS FROM FIRST 3D PRINTER IN SPACE, CONFIRMS NEW MISSIONS

Date: 2018-11-08
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After four years aboard the International Space Station (ISS), NASA has confirmed it’s mission complete for phase I and II of the Made In Space operated “3D Printing in Zero G Technology Demonstration.” 

The findings of this mission, accepted October 2018, were used in development of the Made In Space Additive Manufacturing Facility (AMF) which has been operating aboard the ISS since 2015. With this facility, and the early stage data, NASA confirms that it is one step closer to “transforming logistics for long-duration space exploration” and enhancing crew safety for extended space missions.

The agency is now looking toward other potential solutions to cut down the reliance on supplies from Earth.

Industy News| NASA PUBLISHES FINDINGS FROM FIRST 3D PRINTER IN SPACE, CONFIRMS NEW MISSIONS

Tooling around on the International Space Station. A 3D printed KOBALT wrench made by the Additive Manufacturing Facility. Photo via Made in Space/NASA


The aim of phase I and II of this NASA mission was to provide a proof of concept for 3D printing in space. In order to do so, NASA researchers had to determine whether low gravity conditions had any effect on print quality and, further, if there were any discrepancies between 3D printing in simulated “Zero G” and the real thing aboard the ISS.

Initially, as the report explains, “results indicated differences in density and mechanical properties of specimens printed in microgravity and those manufactured with the printer prior to its launch to ISS.” However, on further analysis in phase II, the team determined that these discrepancies were due to “subtle changes in manufacturing process settings rather than a microgravity influence on the FFF process.”

In a holistic consideration between phase I and II, it was also determined that changes in extruder standoff distance had “no engineering-significant” impact on the overall quality of the finished print.

Structured light scanning and CT were used to compare the quality of 3D printed parts to its CAD counterpart. As demonstrated by the diagram below there is little variance between the CAD model and samples 3D printed in “optimal” and “sub-optimal” conditions. As a result, the authors report, “geometric variation of the resulting specimen relative to the CAD model is not incredibly sensitive to differences in manufacturing processing conditions changed during the course of operations.”

While there are some inconsistencies in the layer quality of these pillars, the differences are still present across all datasets, making them unrelated to microgravity conditions.

Industy News| NASA PUBLISHES FINDINGS FROM FIRST 3D PRINTER IN SPACE, CONFIRMS NEW MISSIONS

Geometric mapping of a 3D printed test pillar compared to its CAD data – red areas highlight dramatic areas of difference. Top row: pillars 3D printed with optimal extruder settings. Bottom row: pillars 3D printed with sub-optimal extruder settings. Image via The International Journal of Advanced Manufacturing Technology


Moving to “truly earth-independent exploration initiatives”

The work performed in this study is part of NASA’s wider In-Space Manufacturing (ISM) project. As detailed by the research, NASA has already awarded a number development grants to companies seeking to take the ISM project on to the next stage. Current focus projects include:

– An In-space Recycler demo, i.e. the Refabricator by Tethers Unlimited which was set to launch this year.

– The ability to 3D print with stronger materials and metals or, specifically, the Made In Space Vulcan Hybrid Manufacturing System.

– Microgravity 3D printed electronics.

– And a FabLab, for multmaterial fabrication.

According to the ISM technology development roadmap, NASA is aiming to undertake initial robotic/remote planetary missions to aid in fabrication from 2020. Between 2020 and 2025 the goal is to then move toward using more in situ materials, e.g. Mars and Lunar regolith for 3D printed construction.

Industy News| NASA PUBLISHES FINDINGS FROM FIRST 3D PRINTER IN SPACE, CONFIRMS NEW MISSIONS


In-Space Manufacturing (ISM) Project timeline. Image via NTRS/NASA

As the author’s state in the conclusions of these most recent findings:

“THE 3D PRINTING IN ZERO G TECHNOLOGY DEMONSTRATION MISSION AND THE ISM ACTIVITIES STEMMING FROM IT REPRESENT THE FIRST STEPS ON THE PATH TOWARD SUSTAINABLE, TRULY EARTH-INDEPENDENT EXPLORATION INITIATIVES.”

“3D Printing in Zero G Technology Demonstration Mission: complete experimental results and summary of related material modeling effort,” is published online in The International Journal of Advanced Manufacturing Technology. The paper is co-authored by Tracie Prater, Niki Werkheiser, Frank Ledbetter, Dogan Timucin, Kevin Wheeler and Mike Snyder.


via: https://3dprintingindustry.com/news/nasa-publishes-findings-from-first-3d-printer-in-space-confirms-new-missions-142781/

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