3D Printer Headed to the International Space Station Passes Crucial Milestone

Noah Paul-Gin (left), Microgravity Experiment Engineering Lead, tests three Made in Space 3D printers in microgravity with team members Jason Dunn (center) and Mike Chen.

Made in Space's customized 3D printer, the first off-Earth manufacturing device scheduled for arrival at the International Space Station (ISS) in 2014, successfully completed a crucial milestone towards flight certification at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) in Huntsville, Ala.

"This developmental testing was vital to the design of our flight unit printer. We've engaged in a fast-paced mission starting in early 2013 to produce hardware that NASA would qualify for launch and installation to the ISS in 2014. The fact that we've been able to pass another milestone in an abbreviated time frame is extremely exciting," said Michael Snyder, Co-PI on the 3D Printing in Zero G Experiment, and Made in Space's Director of R&D.

Made in Space delivered their proprietary prototype technology to MSFC on June 17th after passing microgravity tests at Houston's Johnson Space Center earlier that month. The Engineering Test Unit (ETU) printer, whose design was accomplished in a six month Critical Design Phase (CDP), was subjected to rigorous environmental and functional testing. The results confirmed that the hardware design would survive launch and function in microgravity.

Simulated launch conditions were produced at NASA MSFC to ensure vibrational compliance. The battery of tests also included electromagnetic interference (EMI), acoustic and MSG integration verification. In each case the printer passed all significant tests. Additionally, the fit check indicated no issues with how printer hardware would integrate with the Microgravity Science Glovebox (MSG).

"Passing these developmental tests on the 3D Print test unit shows that our design strategies and philosophies were well-aimed. Our goal going into Critical Design Review (CDR) was to develop a design for a flight-ready unit. We hit our target," said Snyder.

The success of the engineering prototype unit bodes well for the success of the flight unit model, which will undergo the same examination process.

"The data from the recent Engineering Test Unit environmental and functional testing at NASA MSFC serves as key input for the upcoming Critical Design Review. In order to pass CDR, the current design must be deemed 90% complete by the NASA CDR Standing Review Board. The successful results received from the ETU testing at MSFC reinforces our confidence that Made in Space, Inc. has developed the robust design required to successfully print in space. We are excited to have successfully completed yet another key step toward meeting the extensive ISS flight certification process," said Niki Werkheiser, 3D Print project manager in Marshall's Technology Development and Transfer Office.

This testing marked the next phase in the 3D Print Experiment conducted by Made in Space and NASA with the goal of demonstrating the viability of 3D printing for space missions. CDR of the flight unit prototype begins August 15, pushing the project steadily closer to ISS delivery via the SpaceX-5 rocket.

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