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NASA seeks proposals for a Fab Lab in space to take humans beyond the moon

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Equipped with 3D printers, CNC machines, computers, digital tools and other equipment, a fabrication laboratory, otherwise known as a Fab Lab, is a facility set up to enable people to ‘make anything’. In a bid to provide these capabilities to missions for deep-space exploration, NASA are accepting FabLab proposals from corporate, institutional and charitable teams in the private-sector, due to be reviewed late 2017.

A two-part sample tub 3D printed on the International Space Station (ISS). Photo via NASA

On-demand 3D printing in space

Additive manufacturing initiative Made in Space installed the first 3D printer on the International Space Station (ISS) in 2015. Since then the Additive Manufacturing Facility (AMF) has produced around 39 tools and components including some NASA classified items. The success of the AMF has led directly to NASA’s call for FabLab proposals, as explained by Jason Crusan, director of the association’s Advanced Exploration Systems Division,

We’ve already seen the benefits of on-demand manufacturing for tools and replacement parts on station. We want to increase the number of materials we can use to manufacture items on-demand in space and improve overall manufacturing efficiencies as well.

Application process

Through a public-private partnership, NASA is looking for multimaterial fabrication prototypes that can be integrated into the EXPRESS (EXpedite the PRocessing of Experiments for Space Station) racks installed on the ISS.

Example of a multimaterial sensor required for fabrication on-demand in deep space missions. Photo via NASA

Example of a multimaterial sensor required for fabrication on-demand in deep space missions. Photo via NASA

To introduce the ideas, applicants are required to complete an eight-part document detailing key areas such as the Technical Approach to the system’s composition, rights to Intellectual Property and Pricing.

A selection of promising proposals will be made, after which the teams will have 18 months to deliver a functional prototype.

Jim Reuter, deputy associate administrator for NASA Space Technology Mission Directorate Programs, comments,

Having an integrated capability for on-demand manufacturing and repair of components and systems during space missions will be integral for sustainable exploration missions. This is a rapidly-evolving, disruptive area in which NASA wants to continue working with industry and academia to develop these technologies through collaborative mechanisms such as this one.

3D printed satellites, a microwave on the moon and more

Other projects looking to develop off-world 3D printing facilities include Part Time Scientists and Audi’s “3D printing microwave on the moon”, Made in Space’s Archinaut, and the 3D Printed Habitat Challenge also launched by NASA and currently in its third phase.

The deadline for Phase A ISS FabLab proposals is August 2, 2017.

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Featured image: A Made in Space 3D printed wrench on the International Space Station. Photo via Made in Space

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