Made In Space Begins 3D Printing PEI/PC on the ISS
Michael Molitch-Hou posted on July 14, 2017 | 5028 views

Earlier this year, we spoke to Made In Space President Andrew Rush about some of the new exciting projects that the company is working on. These include fabricating electronics and tissues, and casting metal in microgravity. The company also promised that it would soon be 3D printing more advanced plastic with the Additive Manufacturing Facility (AMF) 3D printer currently installed aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

An object 3Dprinted from PEI/PC. (Image courtesy of TCT Magazine.)
An object 3Dprinted from PEI/PC. (Image courtesy of TCT Magazine.)

Now, the company has released its first proof of the ability to 3D print engineering-grade plastic by producing an object made from a polyetherimide/polycarbonate (PEI/PC) composite. PEI/PC, often referred to by the brand name ULTEM, is a durable thermoplastic with high heat, solvent and flame resistance, as well as high dielectric strength, thermal conductivity and overall strength. PEI/PC has almost three times the tensile strength of ABS, one of the two materials previously printed aboard the ISS.

Introduced to the world of 3D printing by Stratasys, ULTEM 9085 and ULTEM 1010 are two of the few 3D printable thermoplastics that has been qualified for use in aerospace applications. For instance, United Launch Alliance 3D printed the Environmental Control System (ECS) duct system for the Atlas V rocket from ULTEM 9085.

“Made In Space is proud to add PEI/PC to the suite of materials it is manufacturing in space with,” said Andrew Rush, president and CEO of Made In Space. “Our team has been regularly printing parts in space with AMF for over a year now. This unparalleled knowledge base of in-space manufacturing operations will enable us to deliver future in-space manufacturing solutions in the most cost-effective and efficient ways possible.”

The fact that a PEI/PC material is now 3D printable aboard the ISS means that Made In Space can begin fabricating more advanced parts in space and pursue some of its loftier projects. These include 3D printing satellite components and, eventually, building a large-scale structure using the yet-to-be-completed Archinaut assembly robot.

“Manufacturing in PEI/PC really expands the value of in-space manufacturing for human spaceflight,” Rush added. “PEI/PC is a truly space-capable material. With it, extravehicular activity (EVA) tools and repairs, stronger and more capable intravehicular (IVA) tools, spares, and repairs, and even satellite structure can be created on-site, on demand. That enables safer, less mass-intensive missions and scientific experiments.”

In our interview with Rush, he said that a small-scale prototype of the Archinaut’s base technology is near completion and would be shipped to a commercial customer this summer. It could even be flown in the next year or two. Funded by NASA, the Archinaut project is about three years out from an on-orbit demonstration, in which Made In Space would launch a small satellite and assemble a large structure potentially over 10 meters in size.

To learn more, visit the Made In Space website.

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