Additive manufacturing has been anticipated as a primary part of in-space manufacturing for decades, although only in science fiction. Made In Space, Inc. is at the forefront of developing In-Situ Manufacturing (ISM) methods for orbital application, and 3D printing is a primary part of their product developments.
Orbital vehicles have a unique set of engineering challenges that drive up their costs, and additive manufacturing has the potential to significantly reduce those costs. There are two key areas that ISM shows value.
- Component Design: Spacecraft need to be designed around intense the structural loads from launch acceleration and high vibration environments. In addition, the volumetric constraints of the launch vehicle require solar panels and antennas to be folded or otherwise stored during launch. In-space manufacturing can solve these problems by building large volume parts on-orbit, potentially reducing mass by up to 30%.  Even the cheapest commercial launcher to geostationary orbit (SpaceX) still charges a minimum of $7500/kg for launch to orbit.  A 30% reduction in launch weight leads to savings of $18M for a program.
- Manufacturing Responsiveness: NASA spent about $334M in spare parts for the International Space Station (ISS) over a 5 year period from 1995 to 2000.  Due to launch schedules, spare parts cannot be delivered just in time, but instead a large stock needs to constantly be maintained on-orbit. Additive manufacturing could allow creation of emergency replacement parts as required, significantly reducing inventory expenses. 
Made In Space, Inc. is applying additive manufacturing to the challenge of ISM through two primary programs. In the short term, they have begun to launch and maintain a series of 3D printers for use on the space station. The Additive Manufacturing Facility (AMF) has been used by astronauts to print tools, biomedical devices and test the capabilities of 3D printing in space. 
Outside of the AMF project, Made In Space, Inc. is developing long term solutions for orbital manufacturing. Their Archinaut robotic vehicle is being designed and built in conjunction with Northrop Grumman and Oceaneering. 
The Archninaut project is intended to combine additive manufacturing techniques with robotic assembling systems to construct large orbital structures remotely.
Although Made In Space is building significant progress in leveraging additive manufacturing in a new arena, there are still significant challenges ahead. First, orbit is not a single location- it’s an array of different orbital velocities that are costly to move between. Archinaut needs an ‘anchor’ customer, or to be solely used in a highly utilized plane such as geosynchronous orbit.
The second issue with the Archinaut introduction is the long development cycle in space manufacturing. Partnering with NASA or other government customers also carries difficulties, including very limited service opportunities or, for international customers, ITAR restrictions.
Given these challenges, I would argue that Made In Space should pursue two strategies in the short term
- Develop a smallsat interchangeable module that would allow in-space fabrication of antennae or solar panels. The shorter design and production cycles of smallsats will allow quicker testing and introduction, and provide technological validation of the technology
- Although ultimately programs like the Archinaut show incredible potential, revenues from those sorts of projects are highly risky and far out. Significant investment should be made into attaining NASA research grants and becoming a highly reliable and valuable partner. Dependence on NASA seems unavoidable for the near term.
In the long term, I believe that creating antennae or solar arrays for communication or earth observation satellites is unsustainable. The challenges in servicing the broad requirements of different vehicles, combined with the energy requirements to move between service locations pose incredible challenges. Instead, Made In Space should shift focus to growing and supporting new industries in space. Primary among the emerging new industries is space tourism, with organizations like Bigelow Aerospace and Axion developing commercial space stations.
Moving forward, I think Made In Space needs to answer a few key questions about the path they’ve set themselves on. First, I’d like to see how past companies have transitioned from government grant funded models to commercial models in emerging technology markets. Second, I believe they need to develop strong partners in the commercial satellite manufacturing arena as soon as possible, and they need to find out the best way to partner and prove their capabilities to these new partners. I’d like to know the roadmap for creating strong partnerships with existing players, and what partners they expect to target.
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 Alejandro E. Trujillo, “Feasibility Analysis of Commercial In-Space Manufacturing Applications” AIAA 2017-5360,
 Space Exploration Technologies, “Capabilities,” https://www.spacex.com/about/capabilities, accessed November 2018
 National Aeronautics and Space Administration, “International Space Station Spare Parts Cost Audit Report”, IG-02-11, https://oig.nasa.gov/docs/ig-02-011.pdf
 Made In Space, “Additive Manufacturing Facility,” http://madeinspace.us/projects/amf , accessed November 2018
 Made In Space, “Archinaut,” http://madeinspace.us/archinaut/, accessed November 2018