Made In Space Is Suc­cess­fully Tak­ing Man­u­fac­tur­ing Into The Stars

ForbesWeekly - - NEWS - BY ALEX KNAPP, FORBES STAFF FOL­LOW ALEX KNAPP AT www.forbes.com/sites/alexk­napp

One of the big­gest bar­ri­ers to build­ing a busi­ness in outer space is the cost. Lift­ing just a few tons of ma­te­rial into space costs any­where from tens of mil­lions to hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars, de­pend­ing on where you want to put it.

That’s where startup Made In Space comes in. Its co­founders, who are alumni of the Forbes 30 Un­der 30 list, have de­vel­oped a 3D-printer ca­pa­ble of work­ing in space, which is al­ready pro­duc­ing ob­jects for its cus­tomers. And they’re aim­ing their goals even higher—work­ing to­ward a ro­botic sys­tem ca­pa­ble of man­u­fac­tur­ing large ob­jects in or­bit.

“Our main goal is to bring man­u­fac­tur­ing to space,” says Michael Sny­der, the com­pany’s chief en­gi­neer.

Made In Space was founded in 2010, with a goal of de­vel­op­ing a 3D printer that could suc­cess­fully operate in ze­ro­grav­ity. The first it­er­a­tion of their 3D printer, which now be­longs to NASA, was in­stalled on the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion in Novem­ber 2014 and printed its first part shortly there­after. The com­pany in­stalled its own com­mer­cial 3D printer on the sta­tion in 2016 and has been pro­duc­ing parts for cus­tomers since.

“3D print­ing, in 2010, was just get­ting to the point where it made sense,” said co­founder Mike Chen.

The com­pany has con­tin­ued to make break­throughs with its 3D print­ing tech­nol­ogy. In July, the com­pany be­gan man­u­fac­tur­ing parts with a high-per­for­mance poly­mer that can with­stand both heat and vac­uum as it pre­pares to man­u­fac­ture prod­ucts that can work in space it­self. Ear­lier this month, the com­pany suc­cess­fully tested its Ex­tended Struc­ture Ad­di­tive Man­u­fac­tur­ing Ma­chine in a ther­mal vac­uum cham­ber that sim­u­lated the con­di­tions of space. In that cham­ber, the com­pany suc­cess­fully built a struc­ture that was over 30 me­ters long.

That test is a ma­jor mile­stone to­wards the com­pany’s ul­ti­mate goal—build­ing large struc­tures in space with its Archin­aut sys­tem, which it’s de­vel­op­ing with Northrop Grum­man Cor­po­ra­tion and Ocea­neer­ing Space Sys­tems.

“With Archin­aut you can take ma­te­rial and pro­duce struc­tures and then as­sem­ble those struc­tures and as­sem­ble things to those struc­tures to ac­tu­ally build struc­tures in or­bit,” said Syn­der.

The ul­ti­mate vi­sion for Made In Space, says co­founder and CTO Ja­son Dunn, is mak­ing it pos­si­ble to have an en­tire econ­omy work­ing in or­bit.

“If we can grow in­dus­try in space, make things there and sell them on Earth or sell them one day on Mars or on the moon,” he said. “What we start to do is build an econ­omy that de­pends on ac­tiv­ity go­ing to and from space.”

A 3d-printed wrench on board the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion

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