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Mars Campaign Office

In-Space Manufacturing Project (prior to FY15: Additive Manufacturing Technology Development) (ISM)

Completed Technology Project

Project Description

3D Printing in Space Test on the International Space Station (ISS)

The In-Space Manufacturing (ISM) project is responsible for developing the manufacturing capabilities that will provide on-demand, sustainable operations during NASA Exploration Missions (in-transit and on-surface). This includes testing & advancing the desired technologies, as well as establishing the required skills & processes for the processes (such as certification and characterization) that will enable the technologies to become institutionalized.

The key capabilities being developed in ISM to support this “make it, don’t take it” approach include developing a 3D printing Fabrication Laboratory (‘FabLab’) that can manufacture parts in space using multiple materials, as well as the ability to embed printed electronics, in-space recycling of printed parts and other materials such as packaging in order to reduce mass and waste, and manufacturing structures externally in space.  In 2015, the ISM project made history by sending the first 3D printer to ISS and manufacturing the first parts ever in space. This was a critical first step in demonstrating additive manufacturing in microgravity.

Note: Prior to FY15, this project was named the Additive Manufacturing Technology Development project.


Long-term mission objectives require a dramatic paradigm shift in the design and development of space architectures.  An analysis of the Problem Reporting and Corrective Action System for failures on the ISS revealed that 88% of those failures could have been remedied and hardware put quickly back into operation with on-board fabrication and repair technologies.   ISM offers an elegant solution for sustainability and affordability by identifying and developing on-demand processes, such as additive manufacturing, to address the in-space construction, repair, and maintenance of vehicles, critical systems, habitats, and uncrewed spacecraft for long-duration missions (both in-transit and on-surface).  These capabilities, along with the optimum use of recycled and in situ materials, provide meaningful mission cost savings due to reducing launch mass, as well as significant risk reduction due to decreasing dependence on spares and/or over-designing systems for reliability.  Objectives will be met through the demonstration of periodic, evolving technology demonstrations in space environments.

To truly develop the capabilities needed for the first long-duration exploration missions, ISM is generating the requirements for an integrated multi-material Fabrication Laboratory (‘Fab Lab’) that will be capable of manufacturing multi-material parts with embedded electronics, autonomous operations, inspection capability, and optimized performance for volume, accuracy, repeatability, etc.  The first generation Fab Lab will be a rack facility on the ISS competed via a Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) in 2017.  Near-term objectives that inform the requirement development include continued operations of the 3D Printer Tech Demo (Small Business Innovation and Research (SBIR)) onboard the ISS, use of a commercial Additive Manufacturing Facility (AMF) printer (also SBIR and CASIS) scheduled to be delivered to the ISS in FY16, and the characterization of ground and space-printed parts to determine microgravity effects, if any.  Other FY16 work includes the development of an in-space recycler demonstration for the ISS in FY17 (via SBIR) and multiple SBIRs to identify and evaluate common-use materials that can initially serve as packaging and stowage materials, then be recycled into raw feedstock for the additive manufacturing of new parts.

These new 3-D printing technologies will provide the capability to produce hardware on-demand, directly lowering costs and decreasing risk by having the exact part or tool needed in the time it takes to print. This capability will also provide the much-needed solution to the cost, volume, and up-mass constraints that prohibit launching everything needed for long-duration or long-distance missions from Earth, including spare parts and replacement systems. This project is the first step towards realizing a “machine shop” in space, which is a critical enabling component of any deep space exploration mission.



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