3D printing in space – with Anisoprint


Episode 42 of the Space Industry podcast is a discussion with Fedor Antonov, CEO of Anisoprint.

Episode show notes

Anisoprint is a Luxembourg-based provider of continuous fiber 3D printing solutions.

In this episode we discuss a range of topics relating to additive manufacturing processes for, and in, space. We cover:

  • What we’ve learned about 3D printing in space in the last 10 years
  • The applications for in-space fabrication and the current state of the market
  • In-situ resource utilization (ISRU) and how it could support space exploration
  • What suppliers across the ecosystem should pay attention to in this field

Please note that while we have endeavoured to produce a transcript that matches the audio as closely as possible, there may be slight differences in the text below. If you would like anything in this transcript clarified, or have any other questions or comments, please contact us today.

[00:00:00] Hywel: Hello everybody. I’m your host, Hywel Curtis, and I’d like to welcome you to the Space Industry by satsearch where we share stories about the companies taking us into orbit. In this podcast, we delve into the opinions and expertise of the people behind the commercial space, organizations of today who could become the household names of tomorrow.

Before we get started with the episode, remember you can find out more information about the suppliers products and innovations that are mentioned in this discussion on the global marketplace for space at satsearch.com.

Hello everybody and welcome to today’s episode. I’m joined today by Fedor Antonov from Luxembourg-based 3D printing company, Anisoprint.

And today we’re going to discuss manufacturing of space component and the use of techniques such as 3D printing or mainly 3D printing to facilitate new business ideas and new satellite concepts and even further into exploration of deep space, the sorts of materials and things that are needed.

So it’s an aspect of the supply chain that I think a lot of companies have worked on or thought when they’re in the ecosystem and looking to scale up, develop constellations, to improve their own manufacturing. These are one of the manufacturing techniques that they would look at, but also there is applications for this technology in space itself, in orbit, in space stations, potentially on the surface of another planet.

Hi Fedor. Thank you very much for spending time with us today. Is there anything you’d like to say as an introduction to add to what I’ve said?

[00:01:27] Fedor: Yeah. Hi everyone, and thanks, Hywel, for the introduction. Yes, indeed. 3D printing in space and in more in general, like manufacturing in space is one of the biggest topics for the space exploration. We going to boost the space exploration in the next decades, and this is definitely not possible without paying attention to them in space manufacturing capabilities.

And I think the one and the most important reason here is, yeah, the way we do space exploration now is we manufacture things on earth. We manufacture launchers, we manufacture satellites on earth, and then we launch them and deploy them on earth. So this is how we do it to today, and this is quite obvious, but the big problem here is that everything that we launch to orbit from Earth has to withstand the launch loads.

And in most of the cases, the launch loads are much heavier than any operation loads that any space system would face during its lifetime, during its operation lifetime. And it, it means that we design mostly for launch loads. And this means that the systems are over-engineered to withstand this loads.

But if we would exclude the launch loads from the design loads, then everything can be made much lighter and it actually means that there is less mass that we need to deliver to orbit, yeah, and of course, like less manufacturing effort and everything, it means that this topic would change if we can manufacture outside earth, if we can manufacture on orbit, everything that we do would be cheaper, lighter, more efficient and would un unlock like much more capabilities for space exploration.

And obviously 3D printing while getting bigger on earth, it still has to compete with all the technologies which are well settled and well built in the supply chains and product life cycle chains 3D printing is struggling to get into the production market. Yeah. And still most of the applications we have with 3D printing on Earth are either in research and development or manufacturing of tools or like prototype or like functional prototyping. But getting into the still production is really hard. Because you need to change everything.

The whole paradigm for 3D printing to fit into it. But for space, 3D printing has many advantages, and one of the advantages is that it’s not existing. We don’t have space manufacturing, so nothing exists. It makes a lot of sense to, to start building it within the new paradigm and based on the new technologies and new approaches and new materials, which is also really important aspect of that topic.

That’s, I think the main idea behind it is, first of all, manufacturing. But then if we go through the life cycle, then there is service, like servicing, whatever we have on orbit. So there is no, almost no service in the, that we do currently only to a few objects in space. We can do service, but satellites are not really service. They are put down after their time is finished. Yeah. But actually you can repair them. You can produce spare parts and you can do maintenance, uh, on orbit. But for that you obviously also need the manufacturing capabilities. You wouldn’t send the object back to Earth and repair it on earth and then send it back.

It doesn’t make sense if there is a need to be an infrastructure and manufacturing like production of parts and components is the essential part of this infrastructure.

[00:05:25] Hywel: Yeah. Brilliant. And I think there’s a lot of different ways that we can go then in the conversation. And I think you’ve covered things like how this would affect potentially mission design, because as you said, we’ve, we move from a, a whole mission design concept focusing on the launch, what can be launched to what is actually going to be required is really interesting.

Yeah, the, as you say, the in orbit servicing and in-space manufacturing could potentially open up a whole wide range of opportunities for companies.

Maybe we could go a bit into a bit more sort of technical detail on which technologies and applications are the most suitable for, for places where 3D printing can clearly add value, and I guess what problems can the technique solve?

[00:06:05] Fedor: Yeah, that’s one of my favorite questions, and obviously the two things that we must pay like maximum attention when discussing the potential candidates, the potential candidate to technologies for 3D printing in space. First one is how heavy the equipment itself is and what are the infrastructure requirements for the equipment itself.

If you need a certain environment for handling equipment, certain like supply of, uh, consumables and what’s the service that is needed. So this is one. And the second one is of course, energy. So how much energy we need to run the technology to produce parts because yeah, the access to energy is more limited outside Earth.

Here on Earth, We have all kinds of energy sources and we do not really care or we were not really caring How much energy do we spend on manufacturing, but exact actually on earth as well. We have to care of that. And this, from my point of view, this excludes basically metals from all the metal manufacturing, the technology, these two aspects, metals or like metal manufacturing from being suitable for space manufacturing. Cause metal loss are heavy themselves and they require a lot of energy to process, to melt, to shape, to everything because metal loss are more dense. They need more energy to deal with these density, let’s say. And so that’s why metals would, and all the equipment, enhance all the equipment dealing with metal processing kind of heavier and has more requirements for energy demand or energy demand and environment.

And this is even true for 3D printing. I mentioned in the beginning that probably 3D printing as a technology stack and 3D printing is not just one technology. It’s like hundreds of technologies, which are, Which can be like very different. Very different. So nothing in common, but almost nothing in common between them.

And I said that 3D printing would be, 3D printing technologies would be a good candidates for in-orbit manufacturing, but not metal one for the sake of this energy consumption and the material itself. And then most of the metal technologies, of course, they require energy and some of them even require gravity because most advanced metal 3D printing or like metallurgy manufacturing technologies are based on powder. and or like powder bed when you need to have a flat surface of powder inside the certain environment, which need to be where gravity it can affect. These are also the limitations and the challenges of space environment. Yeah. Besides what’s mentioned, yes, there are also several constraints and limitations, uh, for a space environment.

And zero or low gravity is one of them. And some technologies really need gravity, a certain level of gravity to work. And so that’s, and these technologies would be definitely, excluded. So I say that metals probably not the good fit, but then what’s left, then it’s polymer. And the polymer technologies, and especially material extrusion technologies, because like very high level, we can divide 3D printing technologies into the powder bed or extrusion.

So that’s not all of it, but these two types would cover most of different 3D printing, uh, technologies and powder bed, uh, doesn’t work in space. And so we have extrusion, we have material extrusion and polymer extrusion, but the problem with polymers is that polymers are not so robust and you can’t really use polymers to manufacture structural parts or like primary structures of space vehicles.

So you need something really stronger. Like strong and lightweight and based on polymers. And then it gives obvious solution, which is at the same time known in the space industry is composites. So basically composite materials which are widely used already in space for manufacturing space structures on earth and uh, advantages and the properties of the composite materials they like fit very well in all the constraints and limitations that space environment would impose. That kind of gives me a feeling that there is only one good solution is 3D printed with composite materials based on material extrusion. And this is what we are working on Earth as a company.

That’s our main technology, or our only technology that we develop for manufacturing on earth. But this technology eventually can be applied outside of as well. And that’s why we were like really excited about this opportunity for like many years trying to find certain, just how we can get into that topic, how we can explore, how we can showcase this technology for in-orbit manufacturing and we’ve been, Yeah, we’ve made couple attempts, I would say like couple unsuccessful attempts.

Cause mostly it is still the market that doesn’t exist and you can’t guarantee any return on investment in a short term. So you can’t go to like venture capitals to finance this research and to finance this development because for venture capitalists, they have five year horizon on the return on their investments, like typically. So that, and for, for this new like low TRL technologies like in-orbit manufacturing probably it’s still for the public financing yet. It’s what public agencies or like space agencies such as European Space Agency or like NASA should pay attention to and to help companies or ideas to grow and to get supported.

Public funding is sometimes quite hard to get. You need to know how to do it. You need to be experienced in this because they have obviously certain requirements to lower the risks and so on. So we’ve made several attempts and to start activities like real development in this space, and the last one was pretty successful.

We got support from European Space Resources and Innovation Center here in Luxembourg, which is a part of Luxembourg Space Agency Initiative. And Luxembourg is one of the big, is very active in space topics.

Yeah. The listeners of the podcast might have heard of that, that there’s a lot of space activities going on in Luxembourg and it makes sense strategically for the country which is small on earth, and want to do something big somewhere else. And the are like many aspects, many different projects, which we can do as a, As a first step. Yeah. And basically this also goes inline with the general roadmap for space manufacturing. What are the road blocks of enabling space manufacturing.

[00:13:40] Hywel: We can look at, yeah, both in terms of more, more widely the concept of bringing 3D print in space or enabling in orbit to manufacturing in space or, or specifically how bringing in a composite material, 3D printing with composite materials based on material extrusion. What are the technical challenges in the way?

[00:13:59] Fedor: Yeah. So first of all, I think that there are like several tiers on how do you enable manufacturing in space or for space.

So the first step would be obviously to showcase 3D printed parts in real missions, like just the standard parts that you print on earth and the standard way you launch them. And this has been done several times. Already It has been demonstrated by different companies and research groups that some of the 3D printed parts and 3D printed materials can operate efficiently in the in space environment.

That hasn’t been though yet demonstrated with composite materials. All of the use cases that we know are either metals, metal parts printed on earth and then launched into space or even plastic parts like polymer parts. But these polymer parts were either mostly for smaller missions like CubeSats, where because yeah, the smaller your structure is then the loads are smaller and the requirements for the material properties are typically lighter. Yeah. Or it was demonstrated in some like, Non-essential parts.

And for composites, this still hasn’t been done. And this is if we wanna enable manufacturing of composite materials, like real composite materials reinforced with continuous like structural fibers, fiber enforced polymers, because like in general, the definition of composite materials is like very broad and. when I say composites, I mean like structural, continuous fiber enforced polymers. So these are the materials which have the highest specific strength and stiffness among all the materials, all the industrial materials which we’ve invented. Yeah, these are the CFRPs. Yeah. So these are the materials, what I’m talking about.

And these materials hadn’t been yet demonstrate on the real missions, 3D printed this type of 3D printed materials. And this probably would be the first step to demonstrate that it works. The second step would be to demonstrate manufacturing in orbit, but in a dedicated environment. So we’re not talking about for on a space station.

Yeah. So in a environment and conditions that are closer to, to normal conditions on earth. Yeah. With, with probably the exception of gravity. Yes. This environment that exists? Yes, we have ISS still operating. There’s been a lot of discussions on how to commercialize ISS, because probably governments don’t want to pay for it anymore.

And then the commercialization of the International Space Station is a big topic and this is the facilities that exists and you can deploy 3D printers like small 3D printers onboard ISS with like minimum modification and you can, It’s not a big technical challenge to demonstrate 3D printing of composite materials on orbit, even it’s been successfully demonstrated with, with polymers like 3D printing with polymers or with polymers or compounds.

It has been successfully demonstrated. This could be the next step and that would already unlock certain business Opportunities, and this is one of the topics that we’ve been discussing with companies operating on ISS and we have a memorandum of understanding signed with Nanoracks, which is a big operator of the deploy on ISS.

And they, and they can deploy small satellite missions or even something more specialized rather than just the simple cubesats through this mission airlock and its capabilities. And so the opportunity that we’ve been discussing is. If you would have 3D printer on ISS, then you can on demand manufacture satellite frames or like cubesats frames.

And then you can assemble using like certain building blocks, you can assemble different cubesats with different payloads and manufacture, assemble, and deploy them on demand. So it would take like just couple days. Ideally, if someone wants to launch quickly, like some quick mission and especially that’s going to be a good value proposition for research University and to deploy such missions on demand for that, you would need of course to have a stock of payloads, components and raw materials for 3D printing.

So there there should be certain stock available on board of the station and like maximum automation and everything to as the hand labor or the astronauts work, Uh, Work hours for that purpose. But this is a technical question, which can be solved. And besides the on demand manufacturing, there is one big value add is again, with avoiding like launch loads, because launch loads also affect the payload, the components.

So before you actually launch your system from Earth, you have to test it and then launch and pray nothing goes wrong, but when you deploy it from ISS, there are no loads, so you can. Test everything on ISS, and then you assure that everything will work. So there is no risk involved. So you just do the proper testing of all the components.

So you test all the components work, you put them together, you do one quick test, everything works, and then you deploy it and you assure that it will work. So it’s, and again, yeah, it’s going to be easier and lighter structure. So this kind of, it’s already a business case, which is foresee, uh, and it can be done in the short term.

And the advantage which composites would give is that you will eventually need less material on stock. Yeah, just the parts can be made lighter with a, with a less material usage. And they will be still strong, stiff, and robust, robust enough to operate. And this is the second phase, the in orbit manufacturing.

Then the third one would be the outer space manufacturing, or if we wanna have the dedicated manufacturing hub as a separate mission on orbit. But, Manufacturing in outer space gives Another huge advantage is large scale structures, cuz when you launch a mission from Earth, it has to fit under the hood of the launcher and it’s maximum five meters or like four to five meters max, and you can’t launch biggest structures, and this would be still the same thing if you manufacture on ISS. So the structure has to fit somehow into the deploy and into the space station, the facilities. But when you manufacture in outer space, basically you can manufacture structures with often unlimited size. And this is important for building like bigger missions.

And this is important again because we have all these large spaces attracts like telescopes that been launched from Earth and they are deployable, so they have to deploy with a complex kinematics when they are launched after launch one orbit. And this also complicates the design, increases the cost, increases the engineering complexity, increasing like failure risks and test and time on ground.

So that’s why like, Design cycles of these large, uh, structures. They are like in decades before you are able to launch a, a telescope. Yeah. You spend like decades in testing and engineering and then testing again and large structures if you can manufacture them on-Orbit as a single structure with no joints, with no moving mechanisms, then it’s, it’s a much simpler and like more, more robust structure in them.

So that’s another big thing. If you can really manufacture in the outer space somehow. Then, yeah, you can produce large structures, which don’t have to withstand launch loads, which don’t have to deploy using mechanisms and complex kinematics.

And then the fourth level would be manufacturing on other planets or like on the moon or on the Mars by using in-situ available resources for the first three tiers, Yeah, we still, we would still rely on the raw material sent from Earth, but the last step would be to utilize space resources as raw materials for in orbit manufacturing. And this is pretty interesting topic.

This is very interesting topic. And this would probably go beyond my knowledge even in 3D printing, because uh, there has been, A lot of activities on construction, 3D printing, like how do you build bases or housing or houses like on the moon. And this, I think this is yet one of the most advanced topics for 3D printing in space.

And because it’s, it’s also 3D printing, but it’s completely different, uh, technological stack from what we do. And it’s construction 3D print in, it’s a different market segment, but this is what has been demonstrated on earth by using materials that are similar to lunar regolith, like fine sand, which you can found in some deserts on earth.

So you can demonstrate how you can center, sand particles to a solid material you can use to build structures. Yeah, And this could work pretty well for construction, especially for construction of smaller. Buildings, but this material is still not the material which you can use in machinery. Yeah. Nobody just will use clay or concrete in, in machinery.

Yeah. It’s, this material is not having the right properties for that. So what do you do? How do you build the engineering parts, like mechanical parts for machinery using space resources. And yeah, this is a very fascinating topic and this is where we kind of see a solution also with, with fiber reinforced composite materials.

And we’ve been looking into that with our and our partners and there are a couple of research groups working on that topic. One of the group, which has quite a significant work done already is a group from Achen University in Germany, and they’ve developed the setup that can extract fibers from lunar regolith.

So these fibers would be rather similar to glass fibers that we can make on earth. So there’s also like silica based based fibers, and regolith has lots of silica. So you can make a silica glass by processing lunar regolith, and then from a silica glass by melting it and spin in it. You can make glass fibers.

And glass fibers are very good material, so they are not, uh, Strong as carbon fibers, but they’re pretty good in terms of mechanical purposes. And they’re widely used in, in the construction applications on earth and in all kinds of applications. Like for example, like wind turbine blades or boat house, All this large structures are mostly made today by using glass fibers or like the glass fiber for polymers.

So it means that we have these material, these glass fibers on the moon. Yeah. We know how to make fibers on the moon. So now, but to make a composite material, you need fibers and metrics material. So something that bonds fibers together and makes them work together. So this is, Yeah, the composite material essentially has two components.

Uh, reinforcing Component, which gives the properties and then the metrics a component which ma, which makes all the similar reinforcement components work together as a whole. So this is how composites materials work and on earth we have polymers and polymers are very good metrics. They work like very good as. matrix material for composite materials. So this is why fiber enforced polymers or continuous fiber enforced polymers, glass fiber enforced polymers, carbon fiber enforced polymers are extremely efficient materials. But the problem is that we don’t have carbon on the moon. There is no carbon atoms.

There are no carbon atoms, and you can’t make polymers without carbon atoms. available. So basically we can’t have polymers on the moon. Solution, which might work in this case. And this is what we’ve been discussing and this is one of the things that we also wanna demonstrate on Earth as, as the demonstration of a potential candidate for a structural material from space resources is kind of glass fiber enforced glass.

So instead of using a polymer as a binder, you can use an amorphous glass or a a glass in amorphous phase and amorphous silica as binder. And then you have fibers, which are highly oriented, crystalline silica as the Reinforcement. These two materials would obviously have a naturally good bonding, so they would adhere, they would bond pretty well to each other, and in this case, yeah, the amorphous glass could work as a binder, and the glass fiber could work as a reinforcement.

This is still not as good as with polymers because glass has, in terms of mechanical propers and physical behavior, Is not as good. But then, yeah, there is a lot of material science that could be involved How we can improve this material, what additives we can add. Or at least, at least we can only ship some special additives, which would make this material less brittle, more ductile, probably lighter and yeah, but still in this case bigger part of the volume will be from the space resources and such material, We don’t use it on earth because we have polymers. It doesn’t make sense, but this material could still work pretty well as a structural material for Mechanical applications.

And then on every planet, which we can reach to, there will be a different resources available. But in, in everywhere, this approach would work. So you can extract fibers and you can extract amorphous material, and you can find the combination where they would bond together. And then this can be processed with material extrusion or 3D printing, or it can be through 3D printed using the technologies that we are developing on earth for polymer for fiber force polymers.

So this is the third step, and then yes, again, if this infrastructure is growing and developing, then on each of these stages. The proportion of it. Yeah. How much input is it given into the whole space manufacturing industry will, I think, change more towards using space resources and outer space manufacturing.

[00:30:03] Hywel: I think as you finished off there, the market will change as different solutions. Come online and are facilitated now. And you mentioned the technical steps that need to be taken in order to progress the technology.

So, okay, those are things that still need to be overcome and there are companies like yourselves working on those steps, but also, You talked about business cases for the different 3D printing, for example, in different locations, so on the ISS or one of the private space stations in the future doing this or some other kind of environment, and also kind of in orbit itself, out outside inverted comments.

The market is aware of those possibilities as well, is way that people are working on those problems. Do you see the market evolve it and do you have discussions with people you know who could potentially be customers in 10, 15 years time or whatever it is?

[00:30:52] Fedor: Well, that’s a very good question. I think still the majority of the market players, they still don’t pay enough attention to in orbit manufacturing and, uh, opportunities and advantages it gives because they probably think it’s still too futuristic and they probably. 

Going to wait a little bit more before there are some cases demonstrated, but then again, that’s the, they will have to catch up after those who did it first.

Yeah. One business case I’ve mentioned is like on demand manufacturing of like specific payloads based on cubesats, but then there is an an important topic of what they. called orbital gas stations or like refueling on orbit and for that, yeah, the infrastructure has to be built. And this is another application where the first steps can be made, like you can manufacture on orbit, fuel tanks. Obviously the tank itself could be inflatable, so you have the, the tanker coming to orbit and then it has to fill.

Smaller fuel tanks, which it can take on board, let’s say. And here you can manufacture the frames for these tanks. Yeah. Even if the tank is inflatable itself, it will need a structural frame. And this is the topic that we’ve been discovering and discussing together with a research group of University of Luxembourg, and they know that there is a demand for such solutions.

And they’ve been in touch with several private companies working in that direction, discussing this opportunity. And, but again, this is, if we’re discussing use cases, but if we look back at these road blocks, uh, still the first step would be for, if a company wants to get engaged and to explore the in orbit manufacturing opportunity for whatever products it’s developed or, or going to develop.

The first thing would be to incorporate through 3D printed parts in the existing products and see how they behave, uh, in a, in real missions, because that would build more trust. And better understanding of the technology stack and its capabilities and the values it’s bringing because it’s probably too much risk to go with a new technology in a new environment.

Everything new so the level of risk is too high. And I think that in this case, companies who wanna be among of pioneers in orbit manufacturing or utilizing in orbit manufacturing to get better products in them, that’s what everyone needs. Yeah, they need to get engaged in 3D printing parts for their existing missions, but paying attention to the fact this technology is like at least like theoretically, Capable of being deployed in space.

Yeah. So that have to be a little more farsighted in what they do now to be able to benefit from being the pioneers of in orbit manufacturing in future. And here I, again, the big companies are not going to be the pioneers, I think because the big companies are too, too rigid and they have too many challenges, which small companies don’t have, and that’s mostly around certification and stuff.

This is an interesting point that whenever a big company wants to implement a new technology or a new material, they have to make sure that this technology and materials are certified, but small companies, they don’t care before they got caught, let’s say. But this is normal situation. This is how, this is the only way that new technologies can emerge. The everyone has to take certain risk because before you take risk, you can’t really identify the challenges like to the full extent. And it doesn’t make sense to identify the challenges completely in advance.

So you, of course you could and you should take care of that. That the most obvious challenges, but most of the challenges, so you can’t even predict. And then you will have to deal with them when they pop up. And that’s why I think that smaller companies are in a better position because they have better access to the new technologies rather than the big companies.

And this would give them a big competitive advantage. So that’s why I think, yeah, we are of course talking about hardware. So what hardware manufacturers, what, What’s the space hardware? And here of course we have launcher vehicles and we have payloads satellites. And in satellites there are lots of structures that can be through the printed and that can be through the printed with composite materials and efficiency can be demonstrated and then this will be much easier to scale that to out of earth when the mers who are engaged, who are committed, and they see the value for us alone as technology providers. Yeah. We need the partners who share the vision and then we can only make it together like step by step.

[00:36:20] Hywel: Yeah. Okay. Brilliant. That makes sense. Yeah. I think obviously what you’re saying is true is great if there are market forces that can drive these things, that, That’s great.

So just to go back quickly to the in-situ resource utilization, you mentioned Luxembourg has quite a strong focus on this. I think it’s really interesting how they as an agency, wherever the direction is coming from, how Luxembourg building this brand and this critical mass of many talent and people involved in the use of space resources.

And this came from the earlier dreams of asteroid mining and what have you, but there are, the market is far more advanced now and there are opportunities there with lots of companies being involved. The research centers, is it the European Space Resources Institute, Innovation center. Yes So yeah, I think it’s really interesting work they’re doing. And yeah, So a lot of this focus on the use of in-situ resources. Where do things actually stand? You mentioned what could potentially be built on the moon with these materials could be great, but what, what missions are upcoming that can take these things forward?

Maybe if we could look further ahead then to actually how 3D printing and in-situ research utilization supports space exploration as well. That’d be interesting.

[00:37:26] Fedor: Yeah, so basically Moon is the nearest target and we have this Artemis mission, which is up and running, and this mission is until the end of this decade.

And it has many activities and many projects within this mission. And ESRIC, Resources Innovation Center is actually one of, one of their main goals is to support ARTEMIS mission, with supporting startups and new ideas that can contribute to our ARTEMIS mission and that finding ideas that can be tested within the ARTEMIS mission, and basically providing access to our projects and mission goals for larger number of stakeholders and what we’ve been engaged with ESRIC is the development of a 3D printer for the lunar environment, for the moon environment. And yeah, this is basically a low gravity environment, so it’s not zero gravity, it’s low gravity, but the difference is not that important. And what we had in mind is that we can have, again, the same approach, so the indoor 3D printer for low gravity.

So essentially it’s not too much different from the, the terrestrial solution now. And then by using raw materials that are sent with the mission from Earth and this, uh, printer operating indoor, it can support the mission with mission critical spare parts. So that was the main application and the main idea.

So if something is broken on the mission and uh, instead of waiting for the next supply from Earth, you can manufacture spare parts exactly on demand. But with using this technology and materials available. And then again, then the next step would be to start using lunar resources instead of shipping materials from Earth.

And this is what I’ve explained, the other solution with glass fibers made out of regolith and yeah, the Next step would be, again, the outdoor 3D printer. So for a manufacturing, larger parts and structures, not just for the spare parts, but for manufacturing machinery, straight on the moon, and yeah, this is for ESRIC.

It’s important to see this part, this space resources part in every project that they are engaging in. So that’s why finding this solution was important for, for the project to be supported by ESRIC. And yeah, the timeline is rather long and there are Different steps and milestones from like proof of concept, which could take a couple years.

Then after proof of concept there like some smaller mission for Evaluation and the proof of concept in real environment, proof of concept. And yeah, I think these activities which we do here in Luxembourg and with ESRIC, they’re mostly around our ARTEMIS because that’s a big program with big public funding.

But this is not the easiest and the simplest thing you can do and it’s rather long term story. While there are simpler way To demonstrate space manufacturing, which are not falling in the, into the asterisk mission or into the ARTEMIS mission, which we are still looking to get engaged to by finding the good partnerships and partners who are interest that, as I say, one project is 3D printing on ISS.

Another project which we were trying to put together with the University of Luxembourg is the, is like a very simple demonstration of in orbit outer space manufacturing, where you can make like a very simple extruder payload, which would fit into a three or six U cubesat and which can simply print long fiber rod and, and use it as an antenna to Transmit signal, and it’s both the proof of concept and the first functional 3D printed component on Earth. So there’s also like powerful marketing move to be the first demonstrated functional component manufactured on orbit in outer space. But yeah, all this opportunity require funding and cooperation, and this is not something that one party could do, and this is where we are looking for different partnerships and programs to put it together.

[00:42:22] Hywel: Brilliant. I think, yeah, we’ve covered pretty much all of the areas that I wanted to focus on today. I think that’s great. Just I guess, One question when we look at this in terms of the the commercial space industry is how do you think suppliers should start to engage with these sort of opportunities?

You mentioned that you don’t want companies to be left behind and nobody wants their kind of business model disrupted. What should the suppliers who are out there today, what should they be thinking about?

[00:42:49] Fedor: I think yeah, one way was what I mentioned. Yeah. To start using Technology which are potentially suitable for space manufacturing.

That would be a kind of a passive commitment to, to the topic. So I just wanna start exploring the opportunity and there is nothing yet available. Yeah. Then to Start exploring opportunity, they should start exploring the potential candidates. And I think this is another argument, It’s just another argument among like many others to start using additive manufacturing and composite materials for, for the production of space rated components.

And then I think what suppliers know better is how the economy going to look of the whole thing. How it’s Converge and in, which moment it’s going to converge. This is the exercise that anyone can make. It’s not Easy though, but what would be the savings? What would be the value created if you manufacture your products on orbit?

If you avoid the launch loads just by avoiding launch loads, what would be the benefit and At which scale of investments, at which scale of production these benefits would have returns on investment. Cause at least I think it’s, it’s not a very difficult engineering exercise, is to design a mission without the launch load assumptions, how much better it would be, how much easier, how much lighter it would be.

And this would probably give a certain level of understanding what would be the benefits of switching to space manufacturing. And I hope that’s going to be pretty exciting to, to understand how much you can save and how much risks you can mitigate if you would have a capability of in orbit manufacturing.

Yeah, so this might just be a funny exercise for any research group in the university engage in like cross disciplinary teams from engineering or like space department and economics department, and then it could be, I think a good article. A good white paper, which could encourage more players to engage.

So I think that, yeah, that’s even as a pure scientific research, I haven’t seen something like that. I haven’t looked for that particularly. I will do it immediately after we finish the recording , cuz that’s just the idea which came up to my mind like just now. So maybe someone did the, something like that, but if not, then it’s worth doing.

And it’s worth sharing and spreading. And this would, I think, yeah, help suppliers to understand the value and to get engaged.

[00:45:58] Hywel: Great. Fantastic. Brilliant. That’s so you shared us with us loads of different insights and different things to think about there. Thank you Fedor.

So one very final question. I think you probably covered most of this, but I wondered if there, is there anything else that in your field that you are most excited about upcoming in the next? You said Horizons are long, so let’s look at five to 10 years maybe. Maybe.

[00:46:20] Fedor: Obviously we have the big issue for, 3D printing as the emergent, the technology stack and as emergent market to find its way into production. It’s still a big challenge and I think that space, whatever, either if we are talking of in space manufacturing or just manufacturing for space is, yeah, it’s the industry of early adopters, it’s always been, and mainly like critical technologies, which we have now for our society are, were first explored and utilized by space companies or for the space missions. I’m sure that it that 3D printing is still pretty much under underestimated by space industry and space Industry has much more capacity to explore.

Especially like newer technologies, and this is where I think is the

Especially like newer technologies, and this is where I think is the opportunity firstly for the 3D printing companies to get more, more use cases to, to focus more on the space market, to offer more solutions for the space market to develop more use cases and in that as well from their side. And this would be a strong foundation for the next steps for manufacturing in space and for actually creating a much, much bigger market for 3D printing outside earth.

And what excites me is, uh, uh, that space has a much better understanding of composite materials. And because these are the materials that’s been used in space for like many decades and space engineers understand composite materials much better and really believe that the future of composite materials industry and space industries are like it will go all together and it will grow and it should grow all together.

And opportunities which composite materials bring for space Structures are still much. Then they’ve been discovered with the previous generation of technologies, and I’m sure that in. Quite a short term and even before we have in space manufacturing at scale, the 3D printing and composite materials for space applications should be a very big thing in the next five years.

[00:48:53] Hywel: Fantastic. That’s a great place to wrap up. Thank you very much, Fedor. It’ll be really interesting to see. Yeah. What happens next in this area, This sort of manufacturing is an enabling technology and you’ve mentioned. The companies that work in space are often early adopters because of the nature of what, what’s required in the area and how the, when these area adopters get, get hold of this enabling technology.

We’ll see what happens. It’s linked to manufacturing is linked in this ways, linked to both the upstream and the downstream, and which we’ve covered as well, the evolution of those areas or drive progress if there were suddenly five Commercial space stations tomorrow Five potential locations that would be interested in hosting printed facilities.

Amazing if the demand changes. If we see a move to different kinds of materials being required for satellites or different form factors, different types of subsystems, components we don’t envision now. That could be 3D printed. You’ve got pressure from the downstream as well. It’d be really interested.

Thank you for very much for sharing all these insights. It’s great to hear of Anisoprint and its work and yeah, best of luck in the different missions and areas you’ve discussed with us today.

[00:49:57] Fedor: Yes, thank you so much for this opportunity. I really enjoyed that discussion. Hope, uh, all the listeners would do as well, so thanks.

[00:50:07] Hywel: Fantastic. We, we also, obviously at all the listeners out there, we’ll include information on how to contact Anisoprint if you’re interested in finding out more about this work or would like to engage with the company. Anyway, we’d like to thank all of you two for spending time with us today here on the Space Industry Podcast.

If you have, if you do have any questions for us or, or Fedor or please do feel free to send those on. Keep an eye out. Also on for the applications and the use cases of additive manufacturing and 3D printing for space and indeed in-space For the future, and thank you very much for listening to the Space Industry Podcast by satsearch.

Thank you for listening to this episode of the Space Industry by satsearch. I hope you enjoyed today’s story about one of the companies taking us into orbit. We’ll be back soon with more in-depth behind-the-scenes insights from private space businesses.

In the meantime, you can go to satsearch.com for more information on the space industry today, or find us on social media if you have any questions or comments. Stay up to date. Please subscribe to our weekly newsletter and you can also get each podcast on demand on iTunes, Spotify, the Google play store, or whichever podcast service you typically use.

3d printing
in-space manufacturing
supply chain

related articles

Blog home

Microsatellite and CubeSat platforms on the global market

CubeSat thrusters and small satellite propulsion systems

Ground station service providers: an overview of telemetry and telecommand communication services and networks for small satellites