Vistacent, LLC, proposes to develop the next generation Additive Manufacturing (AM) facility that will allow part fabrication using engineered plastics, complex high-performance fiber reinforced composites, and sintered metallic parts both in-space and on earth. The proposed multi-material facility will be based on the Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) technology. Such a facility currently does not exist in orbit or terrestrially. The only operational printing facility on the ISS is for plastics such as ABS and PLA. There are no printing facilities for composites and metals. The proposed AM technology for composites and metals will therefore be a significant advancement for on demand printing in orbit. Commercial entities could potentially use such a facility for fabricating replacement parts for their existing hardware, including life support systems. Alternately, this facility could be used to fabricate hardware in orbit and launched from orbit. More recently, NASA has been actively seeking ideas for CubeSats to be launched as secondary payloads from the Space Launch System (SLS). For in-space manufacturing such a multi-material facility will have the distinct advantage of reducing the footprint to support NASA’s 3D printing efforts both on the ISS and for Deep Space Missions. For terrestrial applications a single facility to process both composites and metals is a cost-effective proposition for researchers and manufacturers during the design and development stages of their projects. It would also be of great benefit and economic value to small businesses who need one-of-a-kind hardware to build unique equipment, to repair parts or tools, and to develop prototypes. Therefore, the proposed technology development will serve the commercial interest need on earth and provide a unique and efficient facility specifically for in-space manufacturing and for exploration missions in general. Therein lies the significance of the proposed effort.
NASA applications include the ability to manufacture in-space and on demand parts for structural, life support, CubeSats, and environmental control amongst others. It will allow crew members to fabricate parts on demand for commercial ISS hardware. Optimized feedstock for composites and metals is an enabling feature for building structural components for space transportation vehicles such as SLS and EUS. For such space-based applications, potential customers also include NASA contractors such as SpaceX, Boeing, Orbital-ATK, and Lockheed.
DoD is making a major push for facilities to produce parts on demand in the theater of operation. 3D printing is expected to make major inroads into the aerospace, automotive, and medical industries. A multi-material FDM facility will be in demand as a cost-effective proposition for researchers, small businesses, and manufacturers during the design and development stages of their projects.