Made in Space Selected for NASA SBIR, STTR Awards for 3D Printing Projects

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NASA has selected Made in Space for Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Phase I awards for two projects on 3D additive manufacturing. Each award is for six months and up to $125,000.

Under the SBIR award, Made in Space would develop R3DO, which it describes as a “plastic recycling system for creating 3D printer feedstock on-orbit.

“An automated in-space recycling system for 3D printer feedstock will provide game-changing resupply benefits including but not limited to launch mass reduction, mission reliability increases, and decreased reliance on resupply from Earth,” according to the proposal summary. “To bring these benefits to ISS in the near term, Made In Space proposes the further development of their unique recycling system, called R3DO, for transforming ABS plastic parts on ISS into 3D printer filament feedstock.”

Under the STTR award, Made in Space would partner with the University of Central Florida in Orlando to develop a system that would allow the “additive Manufacturing of Metal Plus Insulator Structures with Sub-mm Features.

“The process revolves around creating a polymeric part through additive manufacturing, leaving voids and trace capillaries,” the proposal summary states. “Once the polymer structures are completed, molten metal is injected into these trace capillaries, which create a path to the voids in the printed parts. Capillary forces cause the liquid metal to wick into the capillary channels, filling the voids before solidifying. Unlike competing metal additive manufacturing techniques, the parts can be created with 100% dense metal elements that have low surface roughness and are completely compatible with the surrounding polymer.”

Edited versions of the proposal summaries follow.

Made in Space, Inc.
Moffett Field, CA

R3DO: A Plastic Recycling System For Creating 3D Printer Feedstock On-Orbit

Estimated Technology Readiness Level (TRL) at beginning and end of contract:
Begin: 3
End: 5

TECHNICAL ABSTRACT

An automated in-space recycling system for 3D printer feedstock will provide game-changing resupply benefits including but not limited to launch mass reduction, mission reliability increases, and decreased reliance on resupply from Earth. To bring these benefits to ISS in the near term, Made In Space proposes the further development of their unique recycling system, called R3DO, for transforming ABS plastic parts on ISS into 3D printer filament feedstock.

R3DO leverages Made In Space’s knowledge of the extrusion process in microgravity, which enables 3D printing in space. R3DO’s patent-pending technologies designed to meet NASA ISS requirements, and include multiple unique innovations such as filament use in microgravity, the low-power heating system, microgravity stabilization, material control, breaker plate migration, material-filter interactions, cooling characteristics, and safety mechanisms.

Made In Space has developed and tested four prototype iterations of R3DO in the lab, to verify that the recycler is capable of recycling 3D printed material into feedstock and that that feedstock can be used with Made In Space printers. Further, Made In Space has flown one of these prototypes on several microgravity flights to verify that it is capable of recycling ABS plastic and extruding feedstock in microgravity. Feedstock extruded in microgravity was then used to successfully print parts using Made In Space 3D printers.

For Phase 1 development, Made In Space will conduct a feasibility study and create a bench-top proof of concept of the full ISS system, based on the aforementioned prototypes, with a planned Technology Readiness Level (“TRL”) of 5. Phase 2 will produce an Engineering Test Unit and accumulate data at TRL 6, and Phase 3 will feature the manufacturing of a Flight Unit, integration with the ISS and commercial applications, demonstrating TRL 9.

POTENTIAL NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS

In 2015, Made In Space is going to manufacture hardware on demand in space. The first and largest market for this service will be in supporting ISS activities. The R3DO recycler has several in-space applications that will significantly enable and improve NASA’s exploration efforts, making NASA a key potential customer of this technology. R3DO will greatly impact NASA’s exploration efforts in three ways: exploration missions (long-term), ISS (short-term), and space debris (short term).

POTENTIAL NON-NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS

Made In Space has had substantial conversations with the US Navy regarding the integration of the R3DO system into Naval operations and logistics, once it is developed. Commercially, the development of a high quality, reliable, and safe recycler will be highly useful to the commercial 3D printing market, which is growing exponentially.

TECHNOLOGY TAXONOMY MAPPING

  • Characterization
  • Composites
  • In Situ Manufacturing
  • Manufacturing Methods
  • Polymers
  • Process Monitoring & Control
  • Processing Methods
  • Remediation/Purification
  • Resource Extraction
  • Waste Storage/Treatment

Made in Space, Inc.
Moffett Field, CA

University of Central Florida
Orlando, FL

MicroCast: Additive Manufacturing of
Metal Plus Insulator Structures with Sub-mm Features

Estimated Technology Readiness Level (TRL) at beginning and end of contract:
Begin: 2
End: 4

TECHNICAL ABSTRACT

A novel method for fabricating electronics containing both metals and polymers can be adapted to quickly and effectively produce micro-well sensors. The process revolves around creating a polymeric part through additive manufacturing, leaving voids and trace capillaries. Once the polymer structures are completed, molten metal is injected into these trace capillaries, which create a path to the voids in the printed parts. Capillary forces cause the liquid metal to wick into the capillary channels, filling the voids before solidifying. Unlike competing metal additive manufacturing techniques, the parts can be created with 100% dense metal elements that have low surface roughness and are completely compatible with the surrounding polymer.

The proposed objective is to adapt the process specifically for the fabrication of the micro-well detectors required by the AdEPT mission.

The overall objective of this proposal is to develop the liquid metal injection process for use with the high-resolution additive manufacturing methods made available through the UCF team, in order to allow for the creation of metal/polymer parts with sub-mm features. A further goal of the program will be to generalize the process in order to expand into other NASA projects, as well as enable a variety of commercial products.

POTENTIAL NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS

The medium-energy gamma ray polarimeter for the Advance Energetic Pair Telescope (AdEPT) mission is the primary application for the micro-well detectors. Other applications include future space telescopes, circuit boards, waveguides, charged particle trackers, and sensors for biological testing. With plans for Made In Space’s 3D printer and casting systems to be integrated into the ISS in the near future, in-space fabrication of micro-electronics could provide unique new applications for NASA.

POTENTIAL NON-NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS

The hybrid additive manufacturing process will lead to products and abilities that traditional manufacturing are incapable of achieving. Such techniques could lead to customized microscale electronics including electronics that can be integrated around structures. Microscale manufacturing techniques could also be used for customized medical applications, like for small sutures or prosthetic parts.

TECHNOLOGY TAXONOMY MAPPING

  • Composites
  • Manufacturing Methods
  • Materials (Insulator, Semiconductor, Substrate)
  • Metallics
  • Microfabrication (and smaller; see also Electronics; Mechanical Systems; Photonics)
  • Polymers
  • Processing Methods
  • Spacecraft Instrumentation & Astrionics (see also Communications; Control & Monitoring; Information Systems)
  • Telescope Arrays
  • X-rays/Gamma Rays