Additive manufacturing (AM) in space may not be top of mind for most people in the field of 3D printing, but it is hardly a new idea. The year 2014 marked the first time an object was 3D printed in space. NASA astronaut Barry Wilmore printed the object onboard the International Space Station (ISS) using the Zero Gravity Printer, which was engineered by Made In Space and served as a predecessor to the company’s Additive Manufacturing Facility (AMF) currently on the ISS. Since then, other firms have joined in to prove new platforms and develop additive printing applications for commercial use. Companies such as Made In Space are working to additively manufacture satellites and spacecraft in orbit, while companies such as TechShot and Organ.Aut have developed technology for bio-compatible 3D printing.
You may be asking yourself: Why 3D print anything in space? One reason for the aerospace industry is that it may be more economical to launch 3D printing feedstocks than it is to launch satellite components and spare parts from Earth. A more general reason, however, is that certain 3D printing processes can benefit from the microgravity environment of space.