NASA EDGE: Additive Manufacturing in Space – 3D Printing
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NASA EDGE: Additive Manufacturing in Space – 3D Printing

December 18, 2019

♪ [Music] ♪ CHRIS: Welcome to
NASA Edge. FRANKLIN: An inside and
outside look. BLAIR: …at all things NASA. CHRIS: You okay?
FRANKLIN: What’s up? BLAIR: Yeah sorry,
I just need coffee, I went to that
Marvel movie marathon, where you literally sit in
the theater and watch everythingfrom…
CHRIS: Oh leading up to The Avengers!
BLAIR: Yeah and there’s like 400 hours of footage
and popcorn. I’m sorry. CHRIS: Well get it
together because we have a jammed packed show. Franklin, we’re going to
be talking about Advanced Exploration Systems, or AES. FRANKLIN: Yeah, and one of those
technologies is 3D printing that is actually up on the International Space
Station. Blair. FRANKLIN: Let’s
pull it together. CHRIS: Later in the show you’re
going to be talking with Deanne Bell with the BLAIR: Yes. I am! BLAIR: Going to be talking
with Deanne Bell. CHRIS: And in the meantime, I
had the chance to sit down with Jason Crusan who
is the head of AES, and he’s going to tell us all
about the cool technologies coming out of his
office. Let’s check it out. CHRIS: So Jason, I understand
that you’re the Q of NASA. JASON: Well that’s an
interesting reference in itself, but it’s a nice analogy if you
think about Q getting ready for Bond to go off and do whatever
mission he was being charged to do. Our group is
much like that. We’re designing all the systems
to send our crews off to explore deep space. CHRIS: Now within
your portfolio, or your technologies, what
are you trying to develop? JASON: So a couple fundamental
things: you need to be able to get into space, you need to
be able to live in space, and be productive
when you’re there. So we’re building a lot of
stuff that allows you to live in space. We are developing
some of the next generation habitation systems.
Where’s the home? How are people
going to live in that? Life support systems for it;
how you’re going to handle logistics, and
management of that. Overall, being able
to live in space. CHRIS: Now I guess, let’s say
when we go to Mars one day, we have the first
humans on Mars, the first thing that comes to
my mind has to be space suits. JASON: Absolutely. So
we’re also advancing the new space suit technologies. And space suits we see what you
see on the space station today. They go out, they
repair something, they fix something,
they come back in. On a trip, to say Mars, you’re
potentially going to go out, fix things along the
way, long duration there. And then when you
get to the surface, you wanna go outside.
CHRIS: Right. Now one of the cool labs we
have here at NASA Johnson Space Center is the portable life
support system ventilation laboratory, and that’s where
they’re working on the space suits of the next generation.
JASON: Correct, yeah. So the suit is
made up of two parts. The actual garment that you
wear and then the backpack; the portable life
support system. The life support
system, the one we have, has been very reliable.
However, it’s getting pretty old at this point and there’s a lot
of new technologies that we actually want to incorporate
into the backpack of the future. For assembling
the space station, or what we did on the shuttle,
you’re working in zero gravity, or near zero gravity, so the
weight of the suit didn’t matter as much, the mass of the suit. But when you get to the surface,
even though there’s really reduced gravity on Mars, you’re
still going to have to carry around that weight, so you’re
going to need a lighter weight suit and also one that you
can use more frequently, and also one that puts
up with the environment; the dust, the rocks and
all those kinds of things. When we did the short
duration EVA’s during Apollo, we only did a very few number of
them and we were on the surface of the moon for a
very short time. Mars, we’re going to be
there for a long time. CHRIS: Mobility will
probably be an issue, you said weight is an issue.
The flexibility of actually working in that environment
would be a key factor. JASON: Correct, yeah. So a lot of the
station assembly, they optimized the suit to
working on the space station. So your work zones and such,
you’re not picking up things off the ground, you’re not using
hand tools and those kinds of things. Instead you’re
turning bolts and all that, so you have a different type of work that you’re
going to be doing. CHRIS: Now is there
something with that backpack, is there something you want
to miniaturize it and make it as
small as possible. But on the flipside,
you want as much oxygen, the astronauts to breathe; to
stay out there for extended periods of time on the surface. JASON: Yeah, so you have this
hard challenge of wanting to be out there as long as you can
be out there and making it as lightweight as possible. Which is what most people could
relate to if anybody has ever traveled, you don’t want to be
carrying around a big heavy bag all
the time either. CHRIS: That’s
right, that’s true. Now, what are some other
cool technologies going on? JASON: One of the problems
we have is managing all the logistics. If you’re
going to be gone on a trip and you pack your car, and you need to figure out where
everything is going to be in, say your motor home, over
the course of a couple years, how are you going to
find all that stuff? So what we’re going to do
is use next generation RFID, or what we’d call
radio frequency ID tags, and what those allow you to do
is wirelessly track an inventory where everything is
inside of your vehicle. CHRIS: That actually makes sense
because if you take a look at something like ISS where you
probably have thousands and thousands of pieces of
equipment on the station. And how do you keep
track of all of that? JASON: Yes, and on
the space station, we don’t sometimes.
There are a number of items that we’ve lost on
the space station and we have to
potentially fly a new one up. On the space station, you
have the additive benefit of the crews changing every six months
so imagine if you were living in your house for six months, you
put everything where you wanted it to go, somebody else comes
up six months later and moves it all on you, and then
you come back again, and nobody knows
where everything went. So everything will have the
equivalent of almost like a high-tech sticker that
actually tracks every piece, and you’ll have
different types of readers, so you’ll have readers
that are in between modules, so you can track when something
moves from one module to another, and you’ll have other
readers that may be hand held so you can scan your storage
bags and figure which bag it is exactly in.
We’re even looking at how do you make one of
those scanners and put it on one of our
flying robots on spheres. So we’re actually going to test
a mobile RFID reader where you actually attach it to the robot
and let the robot figure out the inventory. It can
go out and manage an inventory where everything is. The crew doesn’t actually have
to do that kind of mundane task, the robot can
actually go off and do that, and in fact our space technology
mission director colleagues are starting the development on that
robot that will follow on after spheres, and its
name is Astrobee. CHRIS: One of the cool
technologies that I know we’ve been watching closely is the
additive manufacturing or 3D printer. We have
one on the station now. How’s that coming along? JASON: So, we’re talking about
all these parts and pieces that you want, and you try to predict
everything that would ever go wrong, well we’re going to
not think of some things. So one of the advantages
of additive manufacturing, if we don’t have a part, we can
just order it up and have folks here on the ground
design it digitally, email the file out, and then
print out the part in orbit. CHRIS: And how long is that
process in terms of making a tool, of making a
piece of technology? JASON: So, on station, we’ve
already printed over 20 some parts. And in fact
you can print out several parts per day, whenever you
want, just on a single printer. FRANKLIN: This is Franklin. BLAIR: Hey Franklin,
what’s the code for Q’s lab? FRANKLIN: You know,
I’m not quite sure, but try this. It
usually works for me. BLAIR: Alright.
FRANKLIN: Up, up. BLAIR: Not really directions.
FRANKLIN: Down, down. BLAIR: Got it.
FRANKLIN: Left, right. Left, right. B, A.
Select, start. COMPUTER VOICE:
Mission complete! BLAIR: Oh! Thanks,
great. Awesome. FRANKLIN: Chris, that
was a great segment. And that piece on RFID’s, I wish
I had that kind of technology in my house so I could keep
up with my phone and keys. CHRIS: I’d like to keep it on
all the toys that my son has! I mean, he’s losing
toys all the time. FRANKLIN: Yeah,
they’re under your feet. CHRIS: That’s true.
Hey Blair, you alright? FRANKLIN: Blair? CHRIS: Did he watch
the movies last night? FRANKLIN: He must have left
the theater and came right to the set. CHRIS: I’ll tell
you what, you know, let’s continue on. I mean,
I don’t know what his deal is, but another cool piece of
technology at the end of Jason’s piece was talking
about the 3D printer. And you had a chance to sit
down with Niki Werkheiser. FRANKLIN: Yeah, Niki was telling
me about the technology that is up on the ISS, and how this
might be using the future of space exploration, going
to Mars. CHRIS: Hey, let’s check it out. FRANKLIN: Today, we’re at the
additive manufacturing lab at the Marshall
Space Flight Center, and I’m talking with the 3D
printing in space project manager, Niki Werkheiser. How
you doing Niki? NIKI: Hi, I’m
doing well, thanks. FRANKLIN: Additive
manufacturing. What is it? NIKI: So additive manufacturing
is actually the kind of formal term for 3D printing.
Traditional manufacturing is subtractive. You have a material and you take away
from it. Additive is any process where
you actually build the part that you’re trying to
create, layer by layer, so it’s additive
instead of subtractive. FRANKLIN: 3D printing has been
around for a long long time. So why is it right now we’re
talking about doing 3D printing in space? NIKI: So 3D
printing, you’re correct, has been on the ground
for quite some time, but as you probably
know, in space travel, we depend on flying every single
thing from the ground to the space station, for example,
that we might ever need. So our supply chain, from the
inception of the human space program, has really
been quite limited. When we really start to think
about exploring further out destinations, like Mars
or asteroids or the Moon, that supply chain model
really isn’t feasible. We have to think about how we
would respond in real time, in a sustainable,
affordable way, if parts get lost or broken. If we’re doing
science for example, just like in a
lab on the ground, we have disposable
hardware, sample containers, and syringes, things like
that right now we’re completely dependent upon launching from
the ground to the space station. So being able to
create what you need, when you need it, on these types
of missions is really a critical enabler to sustainable,
affordable exploration missions. FRANKLIN: Well, I’ve seen
3D printing work here on the ground, but to get it in space
what are the technology hurdles that you have to get over to
make sure it works the same way in space as it
does here on earth? NIKI: Right, so those were
actually our exact questions. As a matter of fact, it was back
in 1999 that Ken Cooper here at Marshall Space Flight Center,
flew the first 3D printer in on a parabolic flight to see how
it’d react to microgravity. Since then the
company Made In Space, which we have a small business
innovation research award with and actually built the 3D
printer that we’ve launched to the space station now, has flown
over 500 parabolas on those flights through NASA’s
flight opportunity program. So from that, we’ve
gotten some really good data. We’ve been able to
see, in microgravity, the basic response when you’re
laying the layers and performing additive
manufacturing. However, you only get the 20
to 30 second spurts of microgravity on
those flights. So the bottom-line is that the
space station is actually the only platform we have in the
entire universe where we can test this process out and print
a complete part in microgravity. And that’s why the first
printer that we just launched; it is the first 3D printer ever
in space and we launched it on Space X4
recently, that’s why it’s called a technology
demonstration. FRANKLIN: Now on the table right
over here we have a replica of what is flying on
the ISS right now. Exactly how does
this 3D printer work? NIKI: So this first
printer that we’re flying, we’re actually operating in the
microgravity science glove box, and that is because since this
had never been done in space before, we did not have
all the data for things like flammability and
off-gassing of the heated, extruded material that
we’re printing with. Since then, we’ve collected all
that ground data and found that actually the
results are promising. The next printer will
actually operate outside of MSG. We’ll have a next generation
that’s based off of what we learned
off this printer. We’ve already
learned a great deal. When you’re designing
something for a space flight, you actually need more
automation than you have on the ground. Astronaut time
is very valuable and limited, so you want to be
able to automate. You also want to be able to
control it remotely from the ground as
much as possible. So you’ll note for example, that
we have two large windows in the printer and we’ll have cameras
aimed at those windows during the printing process, and we’ll
be able to see in detail as the layers are being deposited,
how that process is unfolding. What’s really
exciting about this is, we can actually email our 3D
print files directly to the 3D printer from the ground
to the space station. So it sounds very
science fiction but it’s not. It’s going to be
science fact very soon. FRANKLIN: What material is being
used in the production of the parts that are going
to be made on the ISS? NIKI: For our first printer,
the technology demonstration, we’re actually
using ABS plastic, which is the same
plastic, if you see here, this is a little
piece of the filament. This is the same plastic
that LEGOs are made out of, for example. The
filament we use is just like this and to be quite honest it looks almost just like
your weed-eater spool. We’re actually looking at the
next generation printer as well for even more materials,
stronger plastics for example. FRANKLIN: We’re
talking about plastics, but when we get
down to the point, we’re talking about
tools that break. What is the future for using
metals in space and building those
types of tools? NIKI: Right, so at NASA, we
actually have what we call the In Space Manufacturing
Initiative, and that initiative actually
is composed of a road map or a vision of all the integrated
suite of capabilities that we’ll really ultimately need
for exploration missions, that we want to test
on the space station. We also want to do
things, as you mentioned, like printing with
metals in space, printing electronics as well. We actually, last year NASA
released a small business, an innovation and research
proposal for a recycler on how to take that 3D printed
part and turn it back into usable feedstock. FRANKLIN: Niki, what are
the goals of this technology demonstration on the ISS? NIKI: So, for the
technology demonstration, it really has two phases,
and the very first phase is specifically just to
answer the question, “Does the additive manufacturing
or 3D printing process work in microgravity the same way it
does on the ground?” So for the first phase, we’ll actually be
printing a lot of parts that may not look super
exciting to the laymen, but are very exciting to us. We’ll have coupons, so we’ll
have things that look like this. This is a tensile specimen.
We’ll be doing things like compression, flexure,
and torque. For those parts, we’ll be
watching from the ground as the parts are printed,
through the cameras live, so we’ll be able to tell a lot
of information and data we’ll be able to
see immediately. However, to
really determine that, we’ll be flying
those very first parts, those coupons, we’ll be flying
those back to the ground and we have printed those same parts
on the flight unit before we launched it. So we’ll be
doing some detailed engineering analysis and testing
to compare those parts. Once we’ve established that the
3D printing process does work the same in microgravity
as it does on the ground, we have a second phase, and how
I like to think of that is the first phase really focuses on
the printer and the printing process, and the second phase,
we actually turn our attention more to the parts
that we’re printing. So utilization parts, we have
a broad range and we’re developing a
utilization catalog. You can have things
like sample containers, small hand tools, replacement
parts for exercise equipment or medical tools. There’s
just a plethora of different areas and
categories we’re looking into. But the thing there is to learn
how to design these parts and build them in microgravity
and to create a sort of certification process.
We’ve never actually made the parts we needed in space. We’ve launched everything from
the ground so we have a very well known process for how we
handle things like safety and flight requirements, so it’s
kind of fun to start thinking of how we would certify a part that
we actually built on the space station. So those
are things that we’ll be working on in
the second phase of the technology
demonstration. One example, you know we
had a payload on orbit, and you have to change
filters out as a requirement, every so often. It was time
for the filter exchange, and the filter cap was missing.
It’s a real simple little part. We were able to 3D print that on
the ground in about 45 minutes. Of course we didn’t have the
3D printer on board when this happened, so they actually had
to wait 6 months for the next supply ship before they
could use that facility. Even though that wasn’t a
life-threatening example, it’s one that has very real and
meaningful implications to this science and to the daily
operations on the space station. FRANKLIN: What’s going to happen
in the next generation of 3D printing in
space? NIKI: Yes, so we’re already
working that and everything that we learned from this
technology demonstration, including what we’ve already
learned from the design and the operations, getting
it ready for flight, will feed into the
next generation printer. The really exciting thing about
the next generation is that it’s going to be a
commercial printer. It’s called the additive
manufacturing facility and it’s being developed by the company
Made in Space and they’re out in Silicon Valley, so it won’t be
just NASA or the government that has access to 3D
printing parts in space. It will be available for
use by industry and academia; small businesses, large
businesses that are interested in making something in space. So I think it’s very exciting to
think about opening that door, and opening the door to the
space station and able to manufacture parts in
space to more people than just directly NASA. BLAIR: This
technology is awesome. And I got to tell you guys; in
light of all the technology that we’ve seen in the show today,
I’ve got something special that I’ve worked up with the help
of our good friend J.A.R.V.I.S. We’re going to
talk to Deanne Bell. Hi Deanne. Thanks
for being on the show. DEANNE: Okay well we’re
rolling and we’re good to go! BLAIR: Let’s get started with
a very important foundational question. What exactly
is the Future Engineers Program? DEANNE: Right, so Future
Engineers is a program that was started to really inspire the
next generation of innovators and explorers. It’s
a website; you go to
and there’s all kinds of education resources
and our website challenges students to create 3D
modeled inventions for space. The program is an American
Society of Mechanical Engineers Foundation Program in technical
partnership with NASA and it’s really exciting. Our
first challenge launched with the first zero gravity 3D
printer that went to space, and you know that’s not the
first and only challenge. We have many more challenges in
the pipe and we’re constantly developing new challenges and
new curriculum to really connect the excitement of space
exploration and space research with the excitement of creating
a 3D model and turning your idea into a 3D modeled reality. BLAIR: Recently you announced
the winner for your first Future Engineers challenge. What did that first
challenge involve? DEANNE: The first challenge, we
challenged students to create a space tool for astronauts
and we had so many different submissions from all corners of
the country and ultimately we chose 10 semi
finalists in each age group. We had two age groups: under 13
and over 13 that are enrolled in a K-12 school and our winner in
the juniors age group is named Sydney Vernon and she
designed a space planter to grow a seedling in space. Our winner of our teen division,
his name is Robert Hillon based in Enterprise, Alabama and he
designed something called the MPMT. It’s the Multi-Purpose
Precision Maintenance Tool, and he basically took a
gajillion different tools and put it all into one to
be 3D printed on station. And the excitement is,
that one actually is getting 3D
printed on station. BLAIR: What’s next
for future engineers? DEANNE: There is so much
excitement going on with the Future Engineers Program. We are growing; we are always
in the process of developing new challenges. This
program wasn’t just one challenge with that first
printer that went up. We’re really focused on a
multi-year endeavor of getting students, creating
their inventions, and 3D modeling
them in the computer. Every challenge that Future
Engineers issues in partnership with NASA is going to be
centered around research that’s going on at NASA, so it’s a
really great opportunity to pair all of the excitement and all
the different areas of NASA research with K-12 programs to connect it with students in
the classrooms. BLAIR: How can students
with Future Engineers get involved with the
Avengers Initiative? Uh… Future challenges…
it’s future challenges. How can they get
involved in future challenges? DEANNE: Right, so you can
get involved just by going to
The site’s more than just a place to register
and submit a model. There’s all kinds of
cool, fun goodies to explore. There’s videos about how to
get started in 3D modeling, how to learn about
3D modeling concepts. There’s also all kinds
of space science videos. There’s different animated
science lessons that you can learn about microgravity, about
how rockets resupply the ISS. There’s all kinds of content
there to explore so I strongly encourage students to go there,
to just dive into the site and look at all the resources
that we’ve curated for them. BLAIR: Thanks Deanne, and
thanks Future Engineers. DEANNE: Thank you! BLAIR: What’d you guys think? FRANKLIN: Dude, that might
very well have been the best interview
you’ve ever done. BLAIR: Franklin, I
really appreciate that. Thanks so much! CHRIS: As good as
an Asgardian god. BLAIR: Thor! That’s awesome! [R2-D2 beeps]
BLAIR: R2! WILLOW: You are great.
BLAIR: Willow! CHRIS: Blair! Blair!
Blair! Blair! [R2-D2 beeps]
FRANKLIN: Blair. Blair! CHRIS: Hey! What’s up? BLAIR: A outside look
at all things NASA! FRANKLIN: We lost a whole
day because you were asleep. Next time, just see one film. BLAIR: One film?
FRANKLIN: One film. CHRIS: He does this
to us all the time. FRANKLIN: All the time. We have
to shoot tomorrow morning. 9am. Dude, next time,
bring your A game. CHRIS: Get some sleep. CHRIS: And by the
way, you blew it with the Avengers
question. BLAIR: Avengers question… It
wasn’t a dream… It was real! ♪ [Music] ♪

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  1. The problem with NASA nowadays is that everything takes a looooong time. Between safety concerns, too large scope, and shrinking budget, Very useful technologies like this take a lot of time to be ready. Anyway, 3D printing is the future of many industries, so it's usage should start to grow, and hopefully it will make space usage more straightforward. Those inflatable habitats looked cool as hell, BTW, another tech that's taking too long to fly and be used!

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