3D Printing in Space

Posted by Connor Morse on

This past Friday, November 10th, MakerSat-0 was launched by NASA as part of its ELaNa program. ELaNa 14 mission is a 3D printed 1 U CubeSat aboard a Delta-7920 rocket  where it will monitor characteristics of different plastics in the vacuum of space while also capturing images of the earth. 

This will be in preparation of the next CubeSat project, MakerSat-1, which will be manufactured, assembled, and launched on the International Space Station (ISS).

The MakerSat 0 was developed by a group of students at Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa, Idaho. It was one of 4 satellites chosen by NASA for its ELaNa missions. Originally set to launch in 2018, it moved up to Friday November, 10th.

The 3D printed satellite will fly at an altitude of 800 kilometers and travel as fast as 17,000 miles per hour during orbit. It will cross the North and South Poles 14 times a day.

This project is especially interesting as it is also studying the long term space effects of common 3D printed materials. It will be carrying half gram samples of ABS, PLA, nylon, and PEI/PC Ultem and will be collecting data for several years on the impact of the space environment on the materials.

This data will help determine how the current and future planned 3D printed space projects being developed on the ISS hold up. The information gathered could help produce higher quality satellites for future endeavors.

This project was also developed to increase student involvement in science and technology. With the real time information accessible through the student’s smart phones within 2 hours after launch, it will also introduce spaceflight and engineering education to these students as well.

This will be the first ever study to monitor the long term space environmental effects on these materials. Gathering this information will provide NASA more research to allow more CubeSat launches in space.

Having more launches in space would provide easier construction with less rugged frames that are used now to withstand the g-forces during an earth launch. Having light frames that can withstand a microgravity launch are not only easier to assemble, but are also cheaper to construct. This will also allow for easier to plan launches to transport needed materials to the ISS for future projects. It will eliminate a large majority of common launch issues.

This small team of students could provide a large breakthrough on the future of space exploration and information gathering. The MakerSat team, consisting of NNU students Braden Grim, Mitch Kamstra, Connor Nogales, Aaron Ewing, and Grant Johnson, along with Professors Dr. Stephen Parke and Dr. Joshua Griffin have developed a device that will bring us information we’ve never been able to access before. With the information the MakerSat-1 will deliver, we can expect 3D printing to bring big things in the next generation of space exploration.


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