Montana State University has announced plans to build a technology-test satellite called PrintSat. A one-unit CubeSat (10 cm on a side), PrintSat will be built out of nano-carbon-impregnated plastic using a 3D printer.
PrintSat was selected by NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative in 2012 and may be in space as soon as 2013.
MSU professor David Klumpar said 3D printing “will further lower the costs and speed the development of very small satellites, enabling future scientific missions comprised of dozens of satellites flying in formation.”
Printing satellite parts on Earth for use in space is one thing, but Made in Space is a startup company that wants to use 3D printers to manufacture parts in space. Made in Space tested two printers on Zero Gee flights in the summer of 2011 under the sponsorship of NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program. In one experiment, they manufactured an open-end wrench to show how 3D printing could produce tools for use aboard a future space station.
Made in Space hopes test their 3D printing technology aboard a suborbital flight in the near future.
Contrary to popular belief, 3D printing is not limited to plastics. 3D printers have been demonstrated with a wide variety of materials including metals. Paul Breed of Unreasonable Rocket has demonstrated the use of such a printer to build rocket engines.