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Other Space Activities

ISS: AMF (Additive Manufacturing Facility)

Mar 30, 2016

Technology Development

ISS Utilization: AMF (Additive Manufacturing Facility)


The AMF is a commercially available manufacturing facility on ISS designed and developed at Made In Space Inc. of Mountain View, CA, USA. The first Made In Space mission to the ISS was launched in September 2014 on the SpaceX CRS-4 resupply mission. Termed the 3D Print (3D Printing in Zero-G Experiment), the technology was used to demonstrate the capability for 3D printing in microgravity. Through the science objectives of 3D Print, several parts were produced and brought back to the ground or analysis by a joint NASA and Made In Space team. These tests lay the foundation for understanding part quality and material properties of printed objects in microgravity, and overall establish design metrics for parts to be built on future AM (Additive Manufacturing) devices for space. 1)

Through the science objectives of 3D Print, several parts were produced and brought back to the ground or analysis by a joint NASA and Made In Space team. These tests lay the foundation for understanding part quality and material properties of printed objects in microgravity, and overall establish design metrics for parts to be built on future AM devices for space.

Some background: All space missions today are completely dependent on the resources of Earth and the launch vehicles that transport those resources to space. The greater the distance from Earth and the longer the duration, the more difficult it will be to both supply and resupply these endeavors. These currently unavoidable risks placed on human spaceflight make government funded human space missions to deep space extremely cost prohibitive due to the need to ensure crew safety over mission success. The Apollo 13 mission failure of the CSM ( Command and Service Module) provides a good case study to this point. While mission failure was accepted rather quickly, the real struggle for NASA was to find ways to keep the crew alive for the return journey to Earth in a broken craft. The most memorable story was that of adapting the command module lithium hydroxide canisters (a critical aspect of the oxygen scrubbers) to work in the LEM (Lunar Excursion Module) where the crew lived for the journey to Earth. Had a solution not been found, the crew would have suffocated long before reaching home.

Earth dependency on human spaceflight is crippling. This is noticed most on deep space missions, such as the Apollo 13 example, because the chance of Earth resupply is out of the question. On these missions, the only medium by which the crew can receive help from Earth is through the communication link. In other words, only that by which can be sent via radio waves (or today, lasercom as well) can be used by the crew. For the Apollo 13 crew, the instructions for how to build an air filter adapter out of miscellaneous items in the spacecraft radioed to them by ground control in Houston saved their lives.

Looking now at the current state of human spaceflight in LEO (Low Earth Orbit) we see that Earth dependency is at the core of the way by which the space operations are conducted. The ISS (International Space Station) requires a constant resupply from Earth from a multitude of cooperating nations. Without these resupply missions, the crew would need to be returned to Earth and the 100+ billion dollar ISS would be deorbited. There simply is not alternative today. Furthermore, the current rate of resupply is inefficient. In 2012, during Expedition 32/33 on ISS, Astronaut Sunita Williams had to use a tool fashioned from a toothbrush and kapton tape to repair a critical power relay on a spacewalk. While the tool worked, the current state of Earth resupply for ISS removed the option for quickly launching the appropriate tool for the job.

For those who believe in true space exploration, with goals such as human colonization of other worlds, it becomes immediately evident that allowing our current paradigm of Earth dependent exploration to exist will block us from reaching these goals. Like all explorers of the past, true space exploration needs to be less like a camping trip, and more like “living off the land.” New techniques must be developed to enable small groups of humans to not just live in space, but to thrive. The question then is: What new technologies exist, or will exist soon, that can shift the paradigm towards an Earth independent form of space exploration?

The goal at Made In Space, Inc. is to challenge the current paradigm of human spaceflight to enable true space exploration. This goal is being achieved through developing and implementing robotic space manufacturing technologies that augment human activities in space, replacing Earth dependency with a robust and reliable method to adapt to mission needs on the fly. With the proper set of space manufacturing technologies, Earth dependency goes away. In fact, even with current spaceflight, anything that can be manufactured in space is not launched. Today the items on that list are few and far between, but as the Made In Space technology progresses, the numbers will grow. In the future everything in space will be made in space.

The method by which space manufacturing can be done is changing in today's world (2015). The current state of robotics, A.I. (Artificial Intelligence), machine learning, automation, telepresence, and advanced manufacturing is bringing online new solutions to age-old problems; space manufacturing being one of them.


AMF (Additive Manufacturing Facility)

Following the 3D Print mission, Made In Space will install a second AM device onto the ISS. The AMF has been developed to be housed in an Express Rack where it will always be available for use. The AMF design is built off the 3D Print design with a focus on increased automation, build volume, and printed part quality; an increase in automation to allow for a reduction in crew time, which equates to more frequent use, and an increase in build volume and part quality to allow for a larger variety of parts to be built.

Capable of producing parts out of a variety of aerospace grade thermoplastics and composites, the AMF will be used to build functional parts for both inside the pressurized volume of the ISS as well as for use in the vacuum. One unique feature of the AMF is that it is fully capable of building the structural components of a CubeSat class satellite.

AMF will be a permanent manufacturing facility on the ISS, providing hardware manufacturing services to both NASA and the U.S. National Laboratory onboard. Twice the size of the tech demo printer (3D Print), AMF will be able to manufacture larger and more complex objects faster, with finer precision, and with multiple aerospace grade materials. 2) 3)

Under the agreement for use of AMF, Made In Space will own the machine while NASA and other customers will pay to use it. As the first commercially available manufacturing service in space, the AMF will put the capability of off-world manufacturing in the hands of space developers everywhere who wish to get select hardware to space faster, safer, and more affordably than traditional launch methods.

Figure 1: Photo of the AMF, the first publicly available in-space manufacturing device (image credit: Made In Space)
Figure 1: Photo of the AMF, the first publicly available in-space manufacturing device (image credit: Made In Space)

Key technologies of AMF:

1) Modular: Using replaceable subassemblies, the AMF was designed so that it could easily be upgraded to add new functionality and manufacturing methods in the future.

2) Longlasting: The AMF is designed to last the entire lifetime of the ISS

3) Multiple Materials: The AMF printer is designed to work with a wide range of various extrudable materials including flexible polymers and aerospace grade composites.

4) EXPRESS Rack dimensions: Designed to operate in an EXPRESS Rack Mid-Deck Locker, once installed the printer will be easily accessible by the crew at all times.


The AMF instrument was launched on March 23, 2016 (03:05:51UTC) atop a ULA (United Launch Alliance) Atlas-5 vehicle. AMF was part of the Cygnus CRS OA-6 cargo of the commercial OA (Orbital ATK) mission to the ISS. The launch site was Cape Canaveral SLC-41 (Satellite Launch Complex-41). This was the second flight of an enhanced Cygnus spacecraft to the ISS and the fifth of ten flights by Orbital ATK under the Commercial Resupply Services contract with NASA. 4) 5) 6)

On March 8, 2016, Orbital ATK announced that the OA-6 spacecraft would be named the S.S. Rick Husband – in honor of the Space Shuttle Columbia’s ill-fated STS-107 mission. Husband was killed on February 1, 2003 when the Columbia space shuttle disintegrated as she reentered Earth’s atmosphere at the end of a two-week microgravity research mission. None of the seven astronauts aboard survived.

Orbit: The near-circular orbit of the ISS is at a nominal altitude of ~400 km with an inclination of 51.6º.

Cygnus will carry a payload of 3513 kg of science and research, crew supplies and vehicle hardware to the orbital laboratory to support dozens of science and research investigations that will occur during Expeditions 47 and 48. 7)

The Cygnus spacecraft will arrive at the station on March 26, at which time Expedition 47 Commander Tim Kopra of NASA and Flight Engineer Tim Peake of ESA (European Space Agency) will grapple Cygnus, using the space station’s robotic arm. After Cygnus capture, ground commands will be sent from mission control in Houston to the station’s arm to rotate and install the spacecraft on the bottom of the station’s Unity module. Cygnus will remain at the space station until May, when the spacecraft will be used to dispose of several tons of trash during its fiery reentry into Earth’s atmosphere.

The Saffire module remains aboard the Cygnus vehicle while supplies for the station are offloaded. The experiment is conducted during the return trip to Earth.

A few of the scientific highlights: 8) 9)

• Gecko Gripper, testing a mechanism similar to the tiny hairs on geckos' feet that lets them stick to surfaces using an adhesive that doesn't wear off.

• Meteor, an instrument to evaluate from space the chemical composition of meteors entering Earth's atmosphere. The instrument is being re-flown following its loss on earlier supply missions.

• Saffire, which will set a large fire inside the Cygnus in an unprecedented study to see how large fires behave in space. The research is vital to selecting systems and designing procedures future crews of long-duration missions can use for fighting fires.

• Strata-1 to study regolith behavior in microgravity (to investigate how easy or difficult it is to anchor a spacecraft in regolith). The Strata-1 experimental facility exposes a series of regolith simulants, including pulverized meteorite material, glass beads, and regolith simulants composed of terrestrial materials and stored in multiple transparent tubes, to prolonged microgravity on the space station.

• AMF (Additive Manufacturing Facility) of Made In Space Inc. of Mountain View, CA will be installed as a permanent AM (Additive Manufacturing) 3D printing device in an Express Rack. The AMF uses this technology to enable the production of components on the space station for both NASA and commercial objectives.

• In addition, Cygnus is carrying more than two dozen CubeSats/nanosatellites that will be ejected from either the spacecraft or the station at various times during the mission to evaluate a range of technology and science topics including Earth observations.

• Diwata-1 is a microsatellite (50 kg) of the University of the Philippines.


Mission Status

• April 27, 2023: The International Space Station (ISS) partners have agreed to extend the operational period of the ISS. The United States, Japan, Canada and participant European Space Agency (ESA) countries will support operations until 2030, while Russia has committed to continuing station operations until 2028. 18)

• July 6, 2020: The Additive Manufacturing Facility (AMF) is the first permanent commercial manufacturing platform to operate in low Earth orbit. AMF is our flagship technology onboard the ISS and its versatility and durability have made it a reliable resource for government and commercial customers since its activation in 2016. It has produced over 200 tools, assets, and parts in orbit. AMF’s legacy has been the foundation for our technology roadmap and manufacturing programs as Made In Space develops new capabilities that will leverage additive manufacturing in space for unprecedented applications. 10)


- As we move beyond low Earth orbit, on-demand local manufacturing technology will become a mainstay for mission planning to address critical needs. Made In Space (MIS), in partnership with NASA, has demonstrated the efficacy of additive manufacturing to support exploration needs on the International Space Station (ISS) over the past six years. AMF is designed as a modular device that is easily upgraded to increase functionality, and is compatible with over 30 polymers, including space-rated, high-performance thermoplastics. This technology enables the rapid iteration and deployment of in-space needs for long-duration missions.

- To further increase the reliability of long-duration missions, on-demand manufacturing capabilities also make human spaceflight missions safer, providing additional flexibility in responding to situations that threaten a mission. Having these capabilities makes the mission more resilient by allowing contingency planners to design tools to be manufactured on-site, on-demand. Long term, these capabilities are crucial to enabling sustainable human presence in space that is not reliant on resupply from Earth.

• March 27, 2018: MIS (Made In Space, Inc) is celebrating the two-year anniversary of the Additive Manufacturing Facility printing on board the International Space Station. During this time, AMF has additively manufactured nearly 100 individual parts for a variety of customers. 11)

- AMF is a second-generation, in-space 3D printer that currently utilizes three different polymers: ABS plastic (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene), Green PE (polyethylene bioplastic) and space-capable plastic PEI/PC. The device had superb operations tempo in 2017, printing for customers almost every week. MIS plans to incorporate stronger, more complex materials in the future such as metals, composites and carbon nanotube-doped materials. AMF’s modular hardware design allows for continual upgrades.

- “The Additive Manufacturing Facility is an important technology for Made In Space,” said MIS President & CEO Andrew Rush. “Not only does AMF provide mission readiness by removing months of wait times for mission-critical parts, pieces, and tools, the printer provides us with a subsystem testbed for other initiatives, like Archinaut and the Industrial Crystal Facility. Operating AMF for the last two years has been a great privilege. We look forward to continuing to do great work on Station.”

• April 4, 2017: Made In Space has just celebrated the one-year anniversary of its AMF (Additive Manufacturing Facility ) aboard the ISS. On March 23rd, 2016, Made In Space officially launched the AMF, a zero-gravity, second-generation 3D printer, on the ISS. Now, the high-profile 3D printing innovators are looking back at their achievements over the past year, as well as the future of additive manufacturing in space. 12)

- Since last March, 39 AMF prints have been made for clients including medical parts, specialized NASA parts, commercial items, and Science Technology Engineering Mathematics (STEM) projects for students. "I'd describe our prints last year as trailblazers, since they were all made in orbit for the first time and we were exploring how best to utilize AMF," said Matt Napoli, Made In Space vice president of In-Space Operations.

- Several important firsts were indeed trail-blazed by AMF in the last year. NASA sponsored the first STEM 3D print for the Future Engineers program, in addition to contracting an adaptor part for an Oxygen Generating System (OGS) used aboard the ISS during monthly oxygen level testing. On the corporate side of things, AMF printed a microgravity wrench for Lowe’s, its first commercial print. The first print for the U.S. Navy was a hydroclip part used on radio wiring, and the first medical print was a finger splint for a medical researcher.

Figure 2: NASA's OGS part printed by AMF (image credit: Made In Space)
Figure 2: NASA's OGS part printed by AMF (image credit: Made In Space)

- Now, Made In Space is promptly moving forward with that momentum. "This year, we expect more advanced prints as we push the envelope of what's possible with it,” Napoli said.

- Among those exciting developments is a brand new printing material. Made In Space’s new PEI/PC (polyetherimide/polycarbonate) space-suitable material is expected to enhance the company’s ability to manufacture stronger, more heat-resistant structures.

- The move is strategic on Made In Space’s part, as it expands its roster of printing materials. When the company first introduced a 3D printer aboard the ISS in 2014, ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) was the go-to printing material. Last summer, after the launch of the AMF, Made In Space began printing in Green PE (polyethylene), a material supplied by Braskem.

- In the coming years, Made In Space has stated it plans to print in many different materials, as the company perfects the manufacturing techniques required for building large, complex objects in space. Details are still to come, but further planned materials will include metals, composites, and carbon nanotube-doped materials.

• June 16, 2016: Astronauts aboard the ISS have manufactured their first tool using the 3D AMF printer of Made In Space on board the station. This is another step in the ongoing process of testing and using additive manufacturing in space. The ability to build tools and replacement parts at the station is something NASA has been pursuing keenly. 13)

- The first tool printed was a simple wrench. This may not sound like ground-breaking stuff, unless you’ve ever been in the middle of a project only to find you’re missing a simple tool. A missing tool can stop any project in its tracks, and change everybody’s plans. The benefits of manufacturing needed items in space are obvious. Up until now, every single item needed on the ISS had to be sent up via re-supply ship. That’s not a quick turnaround. Now, if a tool is lost or destroyed during normal use, a replacement can be quickly manufactured on-site.

- The first 3D-printed article of Made In Space was part of a test in 2014 to see how 3D printing would work in microgravity. It printed several items which were returned to Earth for testing. Those tests went well, which led to the second one being sent to the station.

- This second machine, which was used to create the wrench (Figure 3), is a much more fully featured, commercial 3D printer. According to Made In Space, this newer AMF “can be accessed by any Earth-bound customer for job-specific work, like a machine shop in space. Example use cases include a medical device company prototyping space-optimized designs, or a satellite manufacturer testing new deployable geometries, or creating tools for ISS crew members.”

- This is exciting news for space enthusiasts, but even more exciting for a certain engineering student from the University of Alabama. The student, Robert Hillan, submitted a tool design to a NASA competition called the 'Future Engineers Space Tool design competition'. The challenge was to design a tool that could be used successfully by astronauts in space. The catch was that the tool design had to upload to the ISS electronically and be printed by the AMF on the station (Figure 4). 14)

- In January 2016, Hillan was announced as the winner. His design? The 'Multipurpose Precision Maintenance Tool', a kind of multi-tool that handy people are familiar with. The tool allows astronauts to tighten and loosen different sizes of nuts and bolts, and to strip wires.

- Hillan's design features multiple tools on one compact unit, including different sized wrenches, drives to attach sockets, a precision measuring tool for wire gages, and a single-edged wire stripper. After the new manufacturing facility was installed on the station in March, NASA uploaded Hillan's design to be printed.

- As a bonus, Hillan was invited to watch his tool come off the printer from a unique vantage point. On June 15, standing amidst the flight controllers in the Payload Operations Integration Center at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, which is mission control for space station science, Hillan looked on as NASA astronaut Jeff Williams displayed the finished tool from the station's Additive Manufacturing Facility. The Marshall Center is located just a few miles from where Hillan is a sophomore engineering student at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.

- NASA astronaut Tim Kopra, a current station crew member, congratulated Hillan, saying "When you have a problem, it will drive specific requirements and solutions. 3D printing allows you to do a quick design to meet those requirements. That's the beauty of this tool and this technology. You can produce something you hadn't anticipated and do it on short notice."

Figure 3: This simple wrench was the first tool printed with the Additive Manufacturing Facility on board the ISS (image credit: NASA, Made In Space, Lowe's)
Figure 3: This simple wrench was the first tool printed with the Additive Manufacturing Facility on board the ISS (image credit: NASA, Made In Space, Lowe's)
Figure 4: The Multi-Purpose Precision Maintenance Tool designed by student Robert Hillan and printed with the AMF on the ISS (image credit: NASA)
Figure 4: The Multi-Purpose Precision Maintenance Tool designed by student Robert Hillan and printed with the AMF on the ISS (image credit: NASA)
Figure 5: Robert Hillan, a sophomore engineering student at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, watches a 3-D printer on the International Space Station complete his winning design for the Future Engineers Space Tool Challenge. Part of his prize for winning the competition was going behind the scenes to watch the printing process from NASA's Payload Operations Integration Center -- mission control for space station science located at NASA/MSFC (image credit: NASA)
Figure 5: Robert Hillan, a sophomore engineering student at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, watches a 3-D printer on the International Space Station complete his winning design for the Future Engineers Space Tool Challenge. Part of his prize for winning the competition was going behind the scenes to watch the printing process from NASA's Payload Operations Integration Center -- mission control for space station science located at NASA/MSFC (image credit: NASA)

• The Cygnus CRS-6 spacecraft completed a series of thruster firings and other maneuvers over the past few days to bring the spacecraft in close proximity to the ISS. When it was about 10 m from the ISS, Expedition 47 Commander Tim Kopra successfully captured the Cygnus cargo vehicle at 10:51 GMT on March 26, 2016, using the International Space Station’s robotic arm, Canadarm2. The Cygnus cargo ship was then bolted into place at the Earth-facing port of the Unity module, the operation was completed at 14:52 GMT. 15)

- Current plans call for Cygnus to stay at the station for about two months until May 20th, when it will be unbolted and unberthed with about 2000 kg of disposible cargo.

- Following departure from the ISS, Cygnus will conduct three payload mission objectives as part of its flight program. Using a deployer provided by NanoRacks, the S.S. Rick Husband will place five CubeSats into orbit to conduct their own autonomous missions. Onboard Cygnus, theSaffire -1 ( Spacecraft Fire Experiment-I) will intentionally light a large-scale fire that will grow and advance until it burns itself out. The final experiment to take place aboard Cygnus will be the REBR (Reentry Breakup Recorder) of NASA. The ISS crew will install the REBR experiment on Cygnus as they pack the spacecraft with disposal cargo. REBR will measure and record data during Cygnus’ safe destructive reentry into Earth’s atmosphere.

Figure 6: As of March 26, 2016, five spacecraft are docked at the ISS including the new Cygnus CRS-6 vehicle of Orbital ATK installed to the Unity module (image credit: NASA)
Figure 6: As of March 26, 2016, five spacecraft are docked at the ISS including the new Cygnus CRS-6 vehicle of Orbital ATK installed to the Unity module (image credit: NASA)

Orbital ATK has two additional CRS missions scheduled in 2016 to support NASA’s ISS cargo and payload mission needs. Following an Antares launch vehicle full-power hot-fire test, flight operations for Cygnus and Antares will resume mid-year from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in eastern Virginia. Under the CRS contract with NASA, Orbital ATK will deliver approximately 26,800 kg of cargo to the ISS over 10 missions through 2018. Beginning in 2019, Orbital ATK will carry out a minimum of six initial cargo missions under NASA’s recently awarded CRS-2 contract.



Material Recycler (R3DO-ISRU) of Made In Space

R3DO is a plastic (Recycling system for creating 3D Printer feedstock On-Orbit) with ISRU (In-Situ Resource Utilization). If we are to truly remove dependency from Earth for space exploration it will be imperative to make use of in-situ resources. In pursuit of this goal, Made In Space has developed a technique (R3DO) for recycling plastic waste on ISS to be turned into feedstock for the 3D Print and AMF. As with the AM technologies, R3DO is a robotic space manufacturing machine that extends the capabilities for humans in space. With the R3DO and AM systems, the process of manufactured goods in space becomes closed loop. AMF builds useful parts for crew and once the part has performed its use, it is fed into R3DO where it is turned back into feedstock for AMF to build the next part (Ref. 1).

With these robotic space manufacturing technologies, the ISS will have an unprecedented ability to remain independent from Earth for material goods. Of course, this technology won’t be the end-all-be-all for human needs, but it surely does augment the goods needed from resupply missions. For instance, a NASA PRACA (Problem Reporting and Corrective Action) study found that nearly 30% of the parts broken to-date on ISS were plastic parts that the AMF could have likely fixed. For the optimistic minded, this is surely just the beginning of the push for a broader use of in-situ resources and space manufacturing to come.

There is also an irony in what this technology means for human space flight: In the example of the Apollo 13 incident from earlier, it was pointed out that for deep space exploration the only link the crew has to Earth is that which can be sent via radio waves. What should be noticed now, is that with the 3D Print and AMF on ISS hardware can now be sent to the crew via radio waves. What should be noticed now, is that with the 3D Print and AMF on the ISS, hardware can now be sent to the crew via radio waves. Indeed, the digital blueprints for the robotic manufacturing process will be designed on the ground and beamed to ISS for manufacturing. With the very first print from 3D Print will begin a new paradigm in which launching on conventional rockets is not the fastest way to get material goods to space, in fact, we can now send these goods there at the speed of light.



An Overview of ISM (In-Space Manufacturing)

NASA/MSFC (Marshall Space Flight Center) and the Agency as a whole are currently engaged in a number of ISM (In-Space Manufacturing) activities that have the potential to reduce launch costs, enhance crew safety, and provide the capabilities needed to undertake long-duration spaceflight. The recent 3D Printing in Zero-G (3DP) experiment conducted on board the ISS (International Space Station) demonstrated that parts of acylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) plastic can be manufactured in microgravity using FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling). This project represents the beginning of the development of a capability that is critical to future NASA missions. 16)

The 3DP technology demonstration is the first payload to perform 3D printing (or, synonymously, additive manufacturing) in a microgravity environment over a long time constant. This demonstration represents the first step towards development of an ISM capability which has the potential to enhance crew safety, enable long-duration missions where cargo resupply may not be an option, and disrupt the orbital supply change to reduce reliance on Earth-based platforms. 17)

The 3DP payload was developed by the private company Made In Space, Inc., under a NASA Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) phase III contract. The 3DP technology demonstration was jointly funded by the NASA Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate (through the Advanced Exploration Systems and International Space Station programs) and the Space Technology Mission Directorate (Game Changing Development program). The NASA team provided guidance for the payload design, early prototype and flight unit qualification testing, payload integration management, ground operations personnel, the flight to the ISS (SpaceX-4), and crew time for the printer’s operation.

The ISM project is responsible for developing the manufacturing capabilities that will provide on-demand, sustainable operations during future NASA exploration missions. The scope of this work includes testing and advancing the candidate manufacturing technologies for in-space applications, as well as developing the skills and processes (such as defining verification and validation (V&V) activities) that will enable the technologies to become institutionalized. ISM utilizes the ISS as a testbed for technology demonstration missions that will serve as the proving ground to transition these technologies to an orbital platform, enhancing crew safety and reducing reliance on Earth.

While 3D printing (and particularly the 3DP technology demonstration mission) are ISM’s highest profile activities, ISM includes work in many development areas that are key to reducing reliance on Earth-based platforms and enabling sustainable, safe exploration. These include:

• Feedstock recycling—The feedstock recycler, which will recycle/reclaim 3D printed parts and/or packing materials into feedstock materials which can then be used to manufacture parts using 3D printing facilities on station.

• Printed electronics—Leverage ground-based developments to enable ISM of functional electronic components, sensors, and circuits.

• Printable satellites—The combination of 3DP coupled with printable electronics enables the on-orbit capability to produce small satellites ‘on demand.’

• Multimaterial 3D printing—Additively manufacturing metallic parts in space is a desirable capability for large structures, components with high strength requirements, and repairs. NASA is evaluating various additive manufacturing metal processes for use in the space environment.

• External structures and repairs—Throughout the lifecycle of space structures, astronauts will need to perform repairs on tools, components, and structures in space. A previous project at NASA Johnson Space Center investigated the use of structured light scanning techniques to create a digital model of damage and how additive manufacturing technologies such as 3DP and metallic manufacturing techniques (including electron beam welding) could be used to perform repairs.

• Additive construction—These activities are focused on developing a capability to print structures on planetary bodies or asteroids using available resources.

The ISM program is focused on evolving manufacturing technologies from Earth-reliant to Earth-independent, work that is key to NASA’s exploration path. The ISS, currently funded through 2024, will continue to serve as the primary testbed and proving ground for ISM technologies. These include the 3DP technology demonstration that is the focus of this TP, the AMF (Additive Manufacturing Facility) -future hardware that will operate on ISS under the management of the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space - the feedstock recycler, the development of the part utilization catalog, printable electronics, and investigations into additive manufacturing of metallics and external repair.

On Earth, the program includes work on certification and inspection processes, development of a characteristic material properties database for parts manufactured in the space environment using ISM capabilities, design of control systems and supporting software for ISM, and ground-based technology maturation and demonstrations. Many of these activities (such as the Additive Construction for Mobile Emplacement project, which seeks to develop a capability to print custom-designed expeditionary structures from either native concrete or concrete derived from available material on planetary bodies) represent intensive collaborations between the ISM and in situ resource utilization (ISRU) communities.

ISM is also a powerful tool to increase student engagement in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) educational activities and develop the next generation of engineers. Recently, NASA and the ASME (American Society of Mechanical Engineers) collaborated on a student competition, called the National Future Engineers STEM program, to design a tool that could be used by an astronaut on ISS. The winning part, a multipurpose maintenance tool, will be printed on ISS as part of phase II operations for the 3D printer currently on station. A similar competition to develop a container for ISS use that can be printed in space is currently underway. More information about these and other NASA/ASME competitions can be found at <>.

Figure 7: Structures ISM (In-Space Manufacturing) phased technology development roadmap (image credit: NASA)
Figure 7: Structures ISM (In-Space Manufacturing) phased technology development roadmap (image credit: NASA)

ISM has developed a phased technology roadmap (Figure 7) to capture the chronology of work needed to transition identified manufacturing technologies from Earth-based to exploration-based through the 2030–2040 timeframe. The immediate focus and first step is in-space 3D printing and recycling of plastics, but in future years, the breadth and scope of activities are anticipated to rapidly grow to include printable electronics, ionic liquids (another ISRU collaborative activity), additive manufacturing of metallics, and development and demonstration of external repair capabilities. With the scheduled decommissioning of ISS in 2024, ISM could evolve (based on the technology maturation made possible by ISS technology demonstrations in the preceding years) to include fabrication labs on the Moon, asteroids, in cislunar space, or even the Martian surface. A fabrication lab would provide on-demand manufacturing of structures, electronics, and parts via processes that utilize in situ and ex situ (renewable) resources. The suite of ISM technologies identified in the roadmap will be key enablers for exploration and self-sustainment at any destination.

All of the technology development activities identified in figure 1 will require extensive materials characterization work for materials and parts/systems produced using ISM capabilities. The ISM team at MSFC is working to coordinate an integrated team to define and execute material property development activities to achieve the following objectives:

1) Identify key material properties needed for design and analysis.

2) Develop a materials characterization approach to establish baseline material properties for plastic parts manufactured in space using current and future 3DP facilities.

3) Understand relationships between manufacturing process variables and resulting material properties. This includes characterizing the effects of filament layup/orientation, feedstock types and lots, and operating the FDM process in the microgravity environment. Printer-to-printer (and build-to-build) variability must also be characterized.

4) Anchor characteristic property data reported in (2) with results from structural tests of printed parts to assess the predictive capability of cataloged property values for design and analysis tasks.

5) Report characteristic property values for materials and/or material systems in the MAPTIS (Materials and Processes Technical Information System). (A material system may be defined as a particular combination of printer/feedstock/filament layup/operational environment.) Values in the MAPTIS database represent validated properties that can be used for the purposes of design and analysis.

Developing a materials characterization roadmap for ISM that will enable functional use of the 3D printer currently on ISS was the primary focus of the first TIM held in July 2015. These tasks are foundational for all future ISM activities related to 3D printing of plastics. Materials characterization is also necessary precursor work for V&V activities that will be required for parts to be included in the utilization catalog (a library of approved parts that can be printed on station). Follow-on activities that will also require a materials characterization approach and database capability for materials of interest include the AMF, the in-space recycler ISS technology demonstration, and the launch packaging recycler. The latter two pieces of hardware will recycle 3D printed parts and launch packaging materials into feedstock (which can then be potentially used by 3DP or AMF) to close the logistics loop. Robust materials characterization is essential to ensure that parts produced with ISM capabilities will satisfy NASA’s stringent functional requirements for spaceflight hardware, and the integrated team that will be formed through this work represents a vital Agency resource for the future development of evolvable manufacturing systems that promote space sustainability.


1) Jason J. Dunn, Michael Snyder, ”Reducing Earth dependency for human spaceflight through robotic space manufacturing,” Proceedings of the 66th International Astronautical Congress (IAC 2015), Jerusalem, Israel, Oct.12-16, 2015, paper: IAC-15,A5,3-B3.6.7

2) ”Additive Manufacturing Facility (AMF),” Made In Space, URL:

3) ”Additive Manufacturing Facility (Manufacturing Device),” NASA, March 2, 2016, URL:

4) Cheryl Warner, Dan Huot, ”NASA Sends Fire, Meteor Experiments to International Space Station on Commercial Cargo Spacecraft,” NASA, Release 16-036, March 23, 2016, URL:

5) Steven Siceloff, ”Cygnus Cargo Ship, Atlas V Blaze Path to Station,” NASA, March 23, 2016, URL:

6) ”Cygnus™ OA-6 Mission,” Orbital ATK Factsheet, URL:

7) Kathryn Hambleton, Tracy Young, ”NASA TV Coverage Set for Fifth Orbital ATK Resupply Mission to Space Station,” NASA, March 17, 2016, URL:

8) Steven Siceloff, ”Cygnus Set to Deliver Its Largest Load of Station Science, Cargo,” NASA, March 18, 2016, URL:

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10) ”First Commercial 3D Printer in Space,” Made In Space, 6 July 2020, URL:

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13) Evan Gough, ”First 3D Tools Printed Aboard Space Station,” Universe Today, June 16, 2016, URL:

14) Kristine Rainey, ”Building the Future: Space Station Crew 3-D Prints First Student-Designed Tool in Space,” NASA, June 15, 2016, URL:

15) ”Orbital ATK's Cygnus Spacecraft Successfully Berths With INternational Space Station,” Orbital ATK, March 28, 2016, URL:

16) T. J. Prater, Q. A. Bean, R. D. Beshears, T. D. Rolin, N. J. Werkheiser, E. A. Ordonez, R. M. Ryan, F. E. Ledbetter III, ”Summary Report on Phase I Results From the 3D Printing in Zero-G Technology Demonstration Mission, Volume I,” NASA/TP—2016–219101, July 2016, URL:

17) Mallory M. Johnston, Mary J. Werkheiser, Kennethe G. Cooper,Jason Dunn, Michael P. Snyder, Jennifer Edmunson, “3D Printing in Zero-G ISS Technology Demonstration,” Proceedings of the AIAA SPACE 2014 Conference and Exposition, August 5–7, 2014, AIAA, Reston, VA, USA, 5 pp., doi:10.2514/6.2014-4470, 2014

18) Garcia, Mark. “Partners Extend International Space Station for Benefit of Humanity – Space Station.” NASA Blogs, 27 April 2023,

The information compiled and edited in this article was provided by Herbert J. Kramer from his documentation of: ”Observation of the Earth and Its Environment: Survey of Missions and Sensors” (Springer Verlag) as well as many other sources after the publication of the 4th edition in 2002. - Comments and corrections to this article are always welcome for further updates (