California-based company which built the two 3D printers aboard the International Space Station (ISS) secures a NASA contract to continue developing its next-generation Vulcan manufacturing system.
As the name implies, Made in Space is a company that specializes in additive manufacturing in space. And they’re pretty established, too. The start-up already has two 3D printers aboard the International Space Station (ISS) for extensive testing.
So what will be their next feat on the final frontier? The company has won a coveted NASA contract to develop a next generation system called Vulcan.
Vulcan is a major step up from the two machines currently on board ISS; those can only print in plastic polymers. The new system can fabricate items in the space environment using a broader variety of “feedstock” materials, including metal.
In fact, Vulcan will be able to use more than 30 materials. These include titanium, stainless steel, aluminum, and a variety of plastic composites, according to Made In Space representatives.
The upgradeable machine is a hybrid of both 3D printing and standard “subtractive” techniques like CNC milling to machine the printed parts down to their final shapes.
“The Vulcan hybrid manufacturing system allows for flexible augmentation and creation of metallic components on demand with high precision,” says Made In Space chief engineer Mike Snyder.
“Vulcan is an efficient, safe capability that utilizes the minimum amount of resources during manufacturing processes.”
Once Vulcan is ready to go, Made In Space plans to demonstrate the technology on the ISS. Once on-board, Vulcan can prove it’s potential usefulness for a variety of exploration missions.
The benefit of having a 3D printer in space, for example, is reducing the requirement for extensive mission resupplies. Tools can be manufactured as and when they are required, which will save on costs and energy.
“Vulcan can be important to logistical reduction necessary for long-term exploration,” says Snyder.
“The hybrid manufacturing system is a major step forward for efficient space operations, providing the ability to build essential components and assemblies in the space environment, where flying spare parts from Earth is otherwise not viable.”
Made in Space is also working on similar larger-scale projects, like Archinaut, which should be able to build new spacecraft parts outside the confines of a space module using a robotic arm and 3D printer.
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