11 Jul

Metal 3D: Development of the first metal 3D printer for the International Space Station

A Cranfield University designed 3D printer was sent to the International Space Station (ISS) on a mission to find out how metal printing powered by lasers is affected by the microgravity environment of space. The printer was taken into space on board Falcon 9 rocket (Cygnus NG-20 mission), launched from Florida on the 29 of January 2024. The 300kg cargo was transported in parts and then reassembled on board by astronauts.


The project was a joint effort by an international consortium of academics and industry. The team at Cranfield was responsible for the development of 3D printing process, which included melting process and hardware, the laser source, delivery optics, feedstock storage and feeding system and process monitoring sensors. Many components, such as the feedstock handling system and process camera had to be designed and built from scratch by the team, whilst other were modified COTS (commercial off the shelf components) modified by the suppliers in collaboration with our team.

The project was coordinated by Airbus Defence and Space, whose responsibility was to space proof the printer, prepare it for the launch and deployment, guarantee its compatibility with the control systems of the ISS and ensure safe operation. Other partners, including AddUp (France) developed the software, Highftech Engineering (Italy) built the main enclosure with cooling system and Airbus (Germany) developed the communication software.

On-demand spare parts for Space Stations - 3D metal printer could help revolutionise manufacturing in space (cranfield.ac.uk)

Anne Fiorucci