NASA’s Outer Space Additive Manufacturing Facility Targets “Alien Market”

Just when you thought things could not get any crazier, NASA has set up an additive manufacturing plant in space that could take 3D printing orders from aliens. 

NASA’s advanced manufacturing system has been installed on the International Space Station and is said to be attracting considerable interest from unknown beings across the cosmos.

Originally intended as an emergency tool shop for the ISS crew, the zero-gravity 3D printing facility is now being made available to extraterrestrial customers across the universe.

While NASA is still waiting for its first alien customers, Earthlings are taking a strong interest in the system created by a company called Made In Space

NASA has in the past talked about 3D printing entire spacecraft and other structures while out in space, and so have other space agencies, such as ESA, which wants to build holiday resorts on the Moon and space cities on Mars and space colonies that just remain floating, out in space.

NASA is funding a multi-billion-dollar, long-term project called Archinaut, intended to develop additive manufacturing and 3D printing in outer space, and Made In Space is one of the companies involved.

Andrew Rush, president of Made In Space, says: “Archinaut is being designed from the ground up to be a truly cross-cutting technology, providing entirely new space capabilities for NASA and other government missions as well as both pre-existing commercial satellite manufacturers and emerging commercial space platforms.”

Alien technology for Earthlings 

Meanwhile, back on Earth, additive manufacturing has been much-heralded as the more convenient and efficient answer to a lot of important manufacturing questions on the minds of those who live and grow old on Earth, such as, “Can you 3D print some false teeth for my dad?”

3D printers are changing large swathes of the manufacturing industry, even though the machines are still considered at the early stages of their evolution, with early adopters looking at paying $1 million for an advanced model.

Stratasys, which manufactures 3D printers, says the technology is set to have an “imminent impact” on the way things are made.

Stratasys conducted a survey into additive manufacturing, questioning some 700 designers, engineers and executives in relevant industries.

The survey found that three-quarters of businesses expect to increase their investment in additive manufacturing, or 3D printing. And additive metal use is expected to double over the next couple of years.

“For those of us working in, around and with 3D printing, it’s an incredibly exciting time,” says Joe Allison, CEO of Stratasys, in the foreword to the report.

Additional additive solutions centre 

Needless to say, the additive manufacturing industry is growing. In a couple of months from now, global engineering technologies company Renishaw plans to open what it says is the UK’s first “solutions centre” for additive manufacturing.

The company this week hosted a visit at its Stone, Staffordshire Site from the Member of the European Parliament for West Midlands, Anthea McIntyre, and chief executive officer of the Manufacturing Technologies Association, James Selka.

Accompanied by Renishaw’s head of global additive manufacturing, Clive Martell, and marketing manager of Renishaw’s additive manufacturing products division, Robin Weston, the visitors were given a tour of the 90,000 square ft additive manufacturing facility based on Brooms Road, on the Stone Business Park.

Renishaw’s new Staffordshire site contains fully equipped research and development facilities and an advanced additive manufacturing lab.

Renishaw says this is the UK’s first Solutions Centre, and is set to open in July. The Solutions Centres offer companies that want to test the capabilities of metal additive manufacturing and 3D printing access to Renishaw’s AM machines, expertise and equipment.

Renishaw has a global network of such Solutions Centres.

Currently serving as the employment spokesperson in the European Parliament, MEP McIntyre met some of Renishaw’s employees at the Stone site.

Reflecting on her visit to Renishaw Stone, McIntyre says: “As a major British exporter, Renishaw is doing incredible things for the employment landscape in the West Midlands. The company’s apprenticeship and employee training schemes are excellent examples of what UK manufacturers should do to help bridge the skills gap and equip employees with the right skills for the future.”

MTA boss Selka says: “As the UK’s only manufacturer of metal additive manufacturing machines, Renishaw is working with OEMs [original equipment manufacturers] and industry to help lower the entry barriers to the technology.

“The generous Stone facility is a unique additive manufacturing operation in the UK. It is equipped with state-of-the-art R&D facilities, training and lecture rooms, creating the perfect hub for ideas, projects and knowledge for the future of the UK’s additive manufacturing industry.

“It’s great to see a British company pushing the boundaries of such an innovative technology that has the potential to change manufacturing as we know it.”

This article originally appeared in Robotics & Automation News.


Purdue leads the way in propulsion research

Purdue University’s Maurice J. Zucrow Laboratories is a leading higher education research facility in aircraft propulsion. Read the lab’s recent news:

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Purdue University is expanding the nation’s largest university propulsion laboratory for research aimed at reducing fuel consumption and emissions for next-generation jet engines.

The expansion at the Maurice J. Zucrow Laboratories will include new test cells to support laser-based measurements in a building to be constructed adjacent to Zucrow’s high-pressure lab. Developed in 1964 as part of NASA’s Apollo program, the high-pressure lab houses research sponsored by aerospace companies, NASA, the U.S. Air Force and other agencies.

“We are doing great things in jet engine research,” said Leah Jamieson, Purdue’s John A. Edwardson Dean of Engineering. “This expansion will boost Zucrow’s research collaborations with leading firms and provide additional educational opportunities to prepare our students for jobs in industry, academia and the public sector.”

The new one-floor, 9,600-square-foot facility will cost $8.2 million. Construction is expected to begin in 2016 and take about a year to complete. Much of the cost — $5 million – is coming from the Lilly Endowment Inc. as part of a $40 million grant, the largest cash donation in Purdue’s history.

The project will include renovations to the current high-pressure lab, including additional office space for growing numbers of faculty and students.

Zucrow is jointly operated by the university’s School of Mechanical Engineering and the School of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

“One of the reasons Zucrow is a top research venue is because we have an internationally unique infrastructure to do this kind of work,” said Stephen D. Heister, Zucrow director and the Raisbeck Engineering Distinguished Professor for Engineering and Technology Integration. “However, the lack of space has been a problem, and the new high-pressure lab is a huge step forward.”

Zucrow is a complex of six facilities founded in 1946 on a 24-acre site west of campus. Over its nearly 70-year history, it has produced more than 1,000 graduates, including several who later became NASA astronauts. The labs specialize in rockets and gas-turbine engines, with faculty and students performing a wide range of propulsion-related research. More than 90 graduate students are working in the labs, which have annual research expenditures exceeding $9 million.

“What makes us different than other university facilities is our ability to precisely study actual conditions inside combustors,” said Scott Meyer, Zucrow’s managing director. “Our test rigs rival what companies have, and we take it a step further by being able to apply laser-based measurement techniques.”

The existing high-pressure lab includes two test cells, and each cell contains two test beds, meaning four separate experiments can be configured at the same time. One of the cells is for rocket testing. The other is for combustion research in turbine engines.

However, companies are reluctant to share a test cell with competitors for fear of compromising propriety secrets, representing an obstacle in attracting research funding, Meyer said. The new building will house five test cells and allow companies to have their own research space.

Another weakness has been the current laser lab, which is housed in a cramped space. The new building will have a 2,000-square-foot laser lab to study combustion in jet engines, allowing Purdue to expand its laser-based research. The studies are enabling engineers for the first time to see what happens inside a jet engine’s combustor, providing data to construct models to better simulate performance and improve designs.

“We use lasers to measure the properties of the flow inside the combustor such as temperature, chemical species, flow velocity and heat release,” said Carson Slabaugh, a research scientist who completed his doctoral thesis at Zucrow.

Another key upgrade is a new air heater, installed in January. The new system will heat air to as high as 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit at a pressure of up to 850 pounds per square inch. The new heater is critical to developing better jet engines because it will allow experiments to operate under higher temperatures and pressures than currently possible.

“Our current air heater was installed in 1968, and it has very poor efficiency,” Meyer said.

Purdue has added two faculty members who will use the facilities: Guillermo Paniagua, an associate professor of mechanical engineering who joined the faculty last year, and Terrance Meyer, a professor of mechanical engineering who will arrive in June.

Industry collaborators have included Rolls-Royce, GE and Siemens.

Propulsion research at Zucrow is led by Heister; Robert Lucht, the Ralph and Bettye Bailey Professor of Combustion in Mechanical Engineering; William Anderson, a professor of aeronautics and astronautics; Nicole Key, an associate professor of mechanical engineering, and aeronautics and astronautics; Steven Son, a professor or mechanical engineering, and aeronautics and astronautics; and Timothée Pourpoint, associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics.

“This new laboratory will improve everybody’s capabilities,” Heister said.

Writer: Emil Venere, 765-494-4709,

Sources:  Leah Jamieson, 765-494-5346,

Stephen D. Heister, 765 49-45126,

Scott Meyer, 765-496-1772,

Carson Slabaugh, 765-494-3256,



Past Winners of the Sikorsky Entrepreneurial Challenge

Congratulations to Solace Power, the winner of 6th Entrepreneurial Challenge.

Solace Power Winner of the 6th Sikorsky Entrepreneurial ChallengeL to R: Jonathan Hartman from Sikorsky Innovations; Neil Chaulk, Rane Brennan, and Magnus Nyberg from Solace Power

Notable Entrants

Cadenza Innovation, LLC, based in Wilton, Connecticut (Special Recognition, 6th Challenge)

Identify3D, based in San Francisco, California (Special Recognition, 6th Challenge)

Response Technologies, LLC, based in Cumberland, Rhode Island (Honorable Mention, 6th Challenge)

iQagent, based in Alpharetta, Georgia (Honorable Mention, 6th Challenge)

Who are some of the other companies who have entered and won the Sikorsky Entrepreneurial Challenge in the past?