The NASA ACO program selected 17 US companies for 20 partnerships to mature industry-developed space technologies for the Moon and beyond. Of these, at least seven are involved, directly or indirectly, with 3D printing technologies. At least three of these – Ai SpaceFactory, Elementum 3D and Blue Origin – will work specifically on 3D printing and additive manufacturing related projects.
NASA made the selections through the 2020 Announcement of Collaboration Opportunity (ACO). The selected proposals are relevant to technology topic areas outlined in the solicitation, including cryogenic fluid management and propulsion; advanced propulsion; sustainable power; in-situ propellant and consumable production; intelligent/resilient systems and advanced robotics; advanced materials and structures; entry, descent, and landing; and small spacecraft technologies.
Among other projects, the NASA and industry teams will design a 3D printing system for NASA’s Artemis lunar exploration program, test a simple method for removing dust from planetary solar arrays, mature a first-stage rocket recovery system for a small satellite launch provider, and more.
Various NASA centers will work with the companies, ranging from small businesses and large aerospace companies to a previous NASA challenge winner, to provide expertise and access to the agency’s unique testing facilities. The partnerships aim to accelerate the development of emerging space capabilities.
“Space technology development doesn’t happen in a vacuum,” said Jim Reuter, the associate administrator for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD), which made the selections and will manage the partnerships. “Whether companies are pursuing space ventures of their own or maturing cutting-edge systems to one day offer a new service to NASA, the agency is dedicated to helping bring new capabilities to market for our mutual benefit.”
AI SpaceFactory will collaborate with NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to develop new lunar-relevant material. Using the material, the team will 3D print a test structure in a vacuum chamber that mimics environmental conditions on the Moon. The research could inform a 3D printing system capable of constructing large surface structures from in-situ materials on other worlds. On Earth, a locally sourced, high-performance 3D print material could benefit the construction industry by simplifying supply chains and reducing material waste.
Elementum will work with Marshall to increase the performance and reduce the cost of additively manufactured aluminum materials. The partnership aims to advance large-scale directed energy deposition – an additive manufacturing process – of high-strength aluminum alloys for complex rocket components and launch structures. The capability could be used broadly by the aerospace, automotive, and other industries.
Blue Origin will partner with Ames, Goddard, and NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston on a space robot operating system. Building on existing open-source software frameworks, the project aims to code robotic intelligence and autonomy while reducing operating costs and enabling robots to work with other space systems. The company will also collaborate with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, to improve engine designs with additive manufacturing using metal. Fabricating, processing, and testing 3D printed engine parts will help optimize weight, engine efficiency, and manufacturability while minimizing production cost.