Anisoprint signed a deal with Nanoracks to develop a space-based continuous carbon fiber 3D printing capability.
Luxembourg-based Anisoprint is well-known for their continuous carbon fiber 3D printers, which are quite different from the normal “carbon fiber filament” 3D printers that simply use chopped carbon fiber mixed with polymers. Instead, Anisoprint’s system literally lays down long threads of continuous carbon fiber into 3D prints, making them incredibly strong.
The parts are so incredibly strong they can actually replace metal parts in some applications, so long as the polymer used is thermally compatible with the environment.
For a couple of years now Anisoprint has been looking to break into the space industry, which is set for major growth in the coming decade. In 2021 the company assisted with a university demonstration of a lunar rover that included continuous carbon fiber 3D printed parts. Then earlier this year they partnered with ESA to develop a space-based continuous carbon fiber 3D printer under the Startup Support Program by the European Space Resources Innovation Centre.
That partnership seems to have blossomed into a more commercial deal, this time with Nanoracks. Nanoracks is a Texas-based company that is attempting to provide easy access to the space environment for research and industry.
At top you can see an image of their Starlab concept, a free-flying commercial space station that could provide 340m3 volume for up to four astronauts, along with capacity for bio, habitation, physical science and materials research units. This is a very ambitious project, but it has not yet launched, as plans suggest 2027 as the operational date.
The MOU (memorandum of understanding) between Nanoracks and Anisoprint allows for Anisoprint to demonstrate and validate their space-based continuous carbon fiber 3D printing technology in orbit. This will be a huge step for Anisoprint.
Anisoprint has a unique combination of capabilities that will be highly desirable by the space industry. First, the ability to 3D print parts on demand is obviously beneficial, as that eliminates the need for costly shipping and storage of spare parts in space environments. Secondly, the carbon fiber technology produces extremely lightweight — but still extremely strong — parts that would be beneficial. Whereas other systems might require the launch to orbit of metal 3D printing materials, the far lighter carbon fiber would dramatically decrease the cost of shipping 3D print materials to orbit.
This MOU is only paper at this point, and it will take much work by Anisoprint and others to successfully achieve the ability to 3D print continuous carbon fiber in space. But when that happens, you can be sure it will be a sought-after technology by all the players in space.