The commercial 3D printer that recently arrived on the International Space Station is now operating!
Delivered on a Cygnus cargo spacecraft in late March, the Additive Manufacturing Facility (AMF) is now fully operational.
The AMF is a kind of follow-on from previous experiments in 3D printing that have taken place on the ISS by NASA and MadeInSpace. The original unit has been gently tucked away by the crew as the experiments were completed, but now there’s another operational 3D printer on board.
There’s a big difference with the new AMF, however. It’s not for astronaut or NASA experiments. No, it’s a publicly available service: you (or any company) can request a print be produced on this device for a fee. Sure, the price per gram for printing on the AMF will no doubt be a tad higher than your average desktop 3D printer, but hey, it’s in orbit after all.
Often the ISS is used to host experiments designed to answer specific questions for NASA or a scientific funding organization. AMF, however, can be accessed by any Earthbound customer for job-specific work, like a machine shop in space. Example use cases include, a medical device company prototyping space optimized designs, or a satellite manufacturer testing new deployable geometries, or creating tools for ISS crew members.
While this is a logical step in the progression of 3D printing technology in space, it is a bit of a milestone. In MadeInSpace’s blog post, there are some very profound words in the text:
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Yes, you CAN order prints on this machine. For almost everyone, this is a service that isn’t required, but the fact that you COULD ACTUALLY PRINT STUFF IN SPACE if you wanted to is slightly mind-blowing.