Home Applications & Case Studies AFRL and partners develop metal-based 3D printing and sintering in the vacuum...

AFRL and partners develop metal-based 3D printing and sintering in the vacuum of space

A new project from the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) Regional Network – Midwest aims to advance the development of manufacturing technologies in orbit. The project, “Metal 3D Printing and Sintering in the Vacuum of Space,” is led by Dr. Calvin M. Stewart, innovation scientist and associate professor at Ohio State University, in collaboration with AFRL, The Virtual Foundry and NASA.

The primary goal is to develop on-orbit manufacturing technologies critical to future space missions. Current methods carry significant risks and costs associated with unplanned failures and malfunctions. By developing on-orbit servicing, assembly and manufacturing (OSAM) technologies, the project aims to mitigate these risks and increase mission flexibility.

The proposed technology, Zero-G Metal 3D printing using Bound Metal Deposition (BMD), offers an innovative approach. Unlike conventional powder bed AM methods, BMD uses metallic powder bound in a filament, reducing health, fire and explosion risks associated with printing in microgravity. Additionally, the Space Vacuum-Assisted Sintering (SVac) process utilizes the near-perfect vacuum of space to increase strength and reduce porosity.

Dr. Stewart commented, “This collaboration represents a significant step forward in on-orbit manufacturing capabilities. By harnessing the power of metal 3D printing and sintering in space, we can revolutionize how critical components are manufactured and replaced during missions.”

“I am thrilled to be part of this innovative project that pushes the boundaries of what is possible in space manufacturing.” says Bradley Woods, CEO of The Virtual Foundry. “Our proprietary Bound Metal Deposition (BMD) technology is uniquely positioned to address the challenges of on-orbit servicing and manufacturing, offering a safe and efficient method to produce high-resolution metal parts directly in space.”

The project, funded with $200,000 over 24 months, includes extensive testing, characterization and validation of BMD components. Through a phased approach, the team will move from laboratory demonstrations to eventual commercialization, with a focus on overcoming technical challenges and ensuring the reliability of the technology.

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