Made In Space Is Successfully Taking Manufacturing Into The Stars
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