Minimize ISS: AMF

ISS Utilization: AMF (Additive Manufacturing Facility)

Overview     AMF     Launch    Mission Status     References

The AMF is a commercially available manufacturing facility on ISS designed and developed at Made In Space Inc. of Mountain View, CA, USA. The first Made In Space mission to the ISS was launched in September 2014 on the SpaceX CRS-4 resupply mission. Termed the 3D Print (3D Printing in Zero-G Experiment), the technology was used to demonstrate the capability for 3D printing in microgravity. Through the science objectives of 3D Print, several parts were produced and brought back to the ground or analysis by a joint NASA and Made In Space team. These tests lay the foundation for understanding part quality and material properties of printed objects in microgravity, and overall establish design metrics for parts to be built on future AM (Additive Manufacturing) devices for space. 1)

Through the science objectives of 3D Print, several parts were produced and brought back to the ground or analysis by a joint NASA and Made In Space team. These tests lay the foundation for understanding part quality and material properties of printed objects in microgravity, and overall establish design metrics for parts to be built on future AM devices for space.

Some background: All space missions today are completely dependent on the resources of Earth and the launch vehicles that transport those resources to space. The greater the distance from Earth and the longer the duration, the more difficult it will be to both supply and resupply these endeavors. These currently unavoidable risks placed on human spaceflight make government funded human space missions to deep space extremely cost prohibitive due to the need to ensure crew safety over mission success. The Apollo 13 mission failure of the CSM ( Command and Service Module) provides a good case study to this point. While mission failure was accepted rather quickly, the real struggle for NASA was to find ways to keep the crew alive for the return journey to Earth in a broken craft. The most memorable story was that of adapting the command module lithium hydroxide canisters (a critical aspect of the oxygen scrubbers) to work in the LEM (Lunar Excursion Module) where the crew lived for the journey to Earth. Had a solution not been found, the crew would have suffocated long before reaching home.

Earth dependency on human spaceflight is crippling. This is noticed most on deep space missions, such as the Apollo 13 example, because the chance of Earth resupply is out of the question. On these missions, the only medium by which the crew can receive help from Earth is through the communication link. In other words, only that by which can be sent via radio waves (or today, lasercom as well) can be used by the crew. For the Apollo 13 crew, the instructions for how to build an air filter adapter out of miscellaneous items in the spacecraft radioed to them by ground control in Houston saved their lives.

Looking now at the current state of human spaceflight in LEO (Low Earth Orbit) we see that Earth dependency is at the core of the way by which the space operations are conducted. The ISS (International Space Station) requires a constant resupply from Earth from a multitude of cooperating nations. Without these resupply missions, the crew would need to be returned to Earth and the 100+ billion dollar ISS would be deorbited. There simply is not alternative today. Furthermore, the current rate of resupply is inefficient. In 2012, during Expedition 32/33 on ISS, Astronaut Sunita Williams had to use a tool fashioned from a toothbrush and kapton tape to repair a critical power relay on a spacewalk. While the tool worked, the current state of Earth resupply for ISS removed the option for quickly launching the appropriate tool for the job.

For those who believe in true space exploration, with goals such as human colonization of other worlds, it becomes immediately evident that allowing our current paradigm of Earth dependent exploration to exist will block us from reaching these goals. Like all explorers of the past, true space exploration needs to be less like a camping trip, and more like "living off the land." New techniques must be developed to enable small groups of humans to not just live in space, but to thrive. The question then is: What new technologies exist, or will exist soon, that can shift the paradigm towards an Earth independent form of space exploration?

The goal at Made In Space, Inc. is to challenge the current paradigm of human spaceflight to enable true space exploration. This goal is being achieved through developing and implementing robotic space manufacturing technologies that augment human activities in space, replacing Earth dependency with a robust and reliable method to adapt to mission needs on the fly. With the proper set of space manufacturing technologies, Earth dependency goes away. In fact, even with current spaceflight, anything that can be manufactured in space is not launched. Today the items on that list are few and far between, but as the Made In Space technology progresses, the numbers will grow. In the future everything in space will be made in space.

The method by which space manufacturing can be done is changing in today's world (2015). The current state of robotics, A.I. (Artificial Intelligence), machine learning, automation, telepresence, and advanced manufacturing is bringing online new solutions to age-old problems; space manufacturing being one of them.



AMF (Additive Manufacturing Facility)

Following the 3D Print mission, Made In Space will install a second AM device onto the ISS. The AMF has been developed to be housed in an Express Rack where it will always be available for use. The AMF design is built off the 3D Print design with a focus on increased automation, build volume, and printed part quality; an increase in automation to allow for a reduction in crew time, which equates to more frequent use, and an increase in build volume and part quality to allow for a larger variety of parts to be built.

Capable of producing parts out of a variety of aerospace grade thermoplastics and composites, the AMF will be used to build functional parts for both inside the pressurized volume of the ISS as well as for use in the vacuum. One unique feature of the AMF is that it is fully capable of building the structural components of a CubeSat class satellite.

AMF will be a permanent manufacturing facility on the ISS, providing hardware manufacturing services to both NASA and the U.S. National Laboratory onboard. Twice the size of the tech demo printer (3D Print), AMF will be able to manufacture larger and more complex objects faster, with finer precision, and with multiple aerospace grade materials. 2) 3)

Under the agreement for use of AMF, Made In Space will own the machine while NASA and other customers will pay to use it. As the first commercially available manufacturing service in space, the AMF will put the capability of off-world manufacturing in the hands of space developers everywhere who wish to get select hardware to space faster, safer, and more affordably than traditional launch methods.


Figure 1: Photo of the AMF, the first publicly available in-space manufacturing device (image credit: Made In Space)

Key technologies of AMF:

1) Modular: Using replaceable subassemblies, the AMF was designed so that it could easily be upgraded to add new functionality and manufacturing methods in the future.

2) Longlasting: The AMF is designed to last the entire lifetime of the ISS

3) Multiple Materials: The AMF printer is designed to work with a wide range of various extrudable materials including flexible polymers and aerospace grade composites.

4) EXPRESS Rack dimensions: Designed to operate in an EXPRESS Rack Mid-Deck Locker, once installed the printer will be easily accessible by the crew at all times.


Launch: The AMF instrument was launched on March 23, 2016 (03:05:51UTC) atop a ULA (United Launch Alliance) Atlas-5 vehicle. AMF was part of the Cygnus CRS OA-6 cargo of the commercial OA (Orbital ATK) mission to the ISS. The launch site was Cape Canaveral SLC-41 (Satellite Launch Complex-41). This was the second flight of an enhanced Cygnus spacecraft to the ISS and the fifth of ten flights by Orbital ATK under the Commercial Resupply Services contract with NASA. 4) 5) 6)

On March 8, 2016, Orbital ATK announced that the OA-6 spacecraft would be named the S.S. Rick Husband – in honor of the Space Shuttle Columbia's ill-fated STS-107 mission. Husband was killed on February 1, 2003 when the Columbia space shuttle disintegrated as she reentered Earth's atmosphere at the end of a two-week microgravity research mission. None of the seven astronauts aboard survived.

Orbit: The near-circular orbit of the ISS is at a nominal altitude of ~400 km with an inclination of 51.6º.

Cygnus will carry a payload of 3513 kg of science and research, crew supplies and vehicle hardware to the orbital laboratory to support dozens of science and research investigations that will occur during Expeditions 47 and 48. 7)

The Cygnus spacecraft will arrive at the station on March 26, at which time Expedition 47 Commander Tim Kopra of NASA and Flight Engineer Tim Peake of ESA (European Space Agency) will grapple Cygnus, using the space station's robotic arm. After Cygnus capture, ground commands will be sent from mission control in Houston to the station's arm to rotate and install the spacecraft on the bottom of the station's Unity module. Cygnus will remain at the space station until May, when the spacecraft will be used to dispose of several tons of trash during its fiery reentry into Earth's atmosphere.

The Saffire module remains aboard the Cygnus vehicle while supplies for the station are offloaded. The experiment is conducted during the return trip to Earth.

A few of the scientific highlights: 8) 9)

• Gecko Gripper, testing a mechanism similar to the tiny hairs on geckos' feet that lets them stick to surfaces using an adhesive that doesn't wear off.

• Meteor, an instrument to evaluate from space the chemical composition of meteors entering Earth's atmosphere. The instrument is being re-flown following its loss on earlier supply missions.

• Saffire, which will set a large fire inside the Cygnus in an unprecedented study to see how large fires behave in space. The research is vital to selecting systems and designing procedures future crews of long-duration missions can use for fighting fires.

• Strata-1 to study regolith behavior in microgravity (to investigate how easy or difficult it is to anchor a spacecraft in regolith). The Strata-1 experimental facility exposes a series of regolith simulants, including pulverized meteorite material, glass beads, and regolith simulants composed of terrestrial materials and stored in multiple transparent tubes, to prolonged microgravity on the space station.

• AMF (Additive Manufacturing Facility) of Made In Space Inc. of Mountain View, CA will be installed as a permanent AM (Additive Manufacturing) 3D printing device in an Express Rack. The AMF uses this technology to enable the production of components on the space station for both NASA and commercial objectives.

• In addition, Cygnus is carrying more than two dozen CubeSats/nanosatellites that will be ejected from either the spacecraft or the station at various times during the mission to evaluate a range of technology and science topics including Earth observations.

• Diwata-1 is a microsatellite (50 kg) of the University of the Philippines.



Mission status:

• June 16, 2016: Astronauts aboard the ISS have manufactured their first tool using the 3D AMF printer of Made In Space on board the station. This is another step in the ongoing process of testing and using additive manufacturing in space. The ability to build tools and replacement parts at the station is something NASA has been pursuing keenly. 10)

- The first tool printed was a simple wrench. This may not sound like ground-breaking stuff, unless you've ever been in the middle of a project only to find you're missing a simple tool. A missing tool can stop any project in its tracks, and change everybody's plans. The benefits of manufacturing needed items in space are obvious. Up until now, every single item needed on the ISS had to be sent up via re-supply ship. That's not a quick turnaround. Now, if a tool is lost or destroyed during normal use, a replacement can be quickly manufactured on-site.

- The first 3D-printed article of Made In Space was part of a test in 2014 to see how 3D printing would work in microgravity. It printed several items which were returned to Earth for testing. Those tests went well, which led to the second one being sent to the station.

- This second machine, which was used to create the wrench (Figure 2), is a much more fully featured, commercial 3D printer. According to Made In Space, this newer AMF "can be accessed by any Earth-bound customer for job-specific work, like a machine shop in space. Example use cases include a medical device company prototyping space-optimized designs, or a satellite manufacturer testing new deployable geometries, or creating tools for ISS crew members."

- This is exciting news for space enthusiasts, but even more exciting for a certain engineering student from the University of Alabama. The student, Robert Hillan, submitted a tool design to a NASA competition called the 'Future Engineers Space Tool design competition'. The challenge was to design a tool that could be used successfully by astronauts in space. The catch was that the tool design had to upload to the ISS electronically and be printed by the AMF on the station (Figure 3). 11)

- In January 2016, Hillan was announced as the winner. His design? The 'Multipurpose Precision Maintenance Tool', a kind of multi-tool that handy people are familiar with. The tool allows astronauts to tighten and loosen different sizes of nuts and bolts, and to strip wires.

- Hillan's design features multiple tools on one compact unit, including different sized wrenches, drives to attach sockets, a precision measuring tool for wire gages, and a single-edged wire stripper. After the new manufacturing facility was installed on the station in March, NASA uploaded Hillan's design to be printed.

- As a bonus, Hillan was invited to watch his tool come off the printer from a unique vantage point. On June 15, standing amidst the flight controllers in the Payload Operations Integration Center at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, which is mission control for space station science, Hillan looked on as NASA astronaut Jeff Williams displayed the finished tool from the station's Additive Manufacturing Facility. The Marshall Center is located just a few miles from where Hillan is a sophomore engineering student at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.

- NASA astronaut Tim Kopra, a current station crew member, congratulated Hillan, saying "When you have a problem, it will drive specific requirements and solutions. 3-D printing allows you to do a quick design to meet those requirements. That's the beauty of this tool and this technology. You can produce something you hadn't anticipated and do it on short notice."


Figure 2: This simple wrench was the first tool printed with the Additive Manufacturing Facility on board the ISS (image credit: NASA, Made In Space, Lowe's)


Figure 3: The Multi-Purpose Precision Maintenance Tool designed by student Robert Hillan and printed with the AMF on the ISS (image credit: NASA)


Figure 4: Robert Hillan, a sophomore engineering student at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, watches a 3-D printer on the International Space Station complete his winning design for the Future Engineers Space Tool Challenge. Part of his prize for winning the competition was going behind the scenes to watch the printing process from NASA's Payload Operations Integration Center -- mission control for space station science located at NASA/MSFC (image credit: NASA)

• The Cygnus CRS-6 spacecraft completed a series of thruster firings and other maneuvers over the past few days to bring the spacecraft in close proximity to the ISS. When it was about 10 m from the ISS, Expedition 47 Commander Tim Kopra successfully captured the Cygnus cargo vehicle at 10:51 GMT on March 26, 2016, using the International Space Station's robotic arm, Canadarm2. The Cygnus cargo ship was then bolted into place at the Earth-facing port of the Unity module, the operation was completed at 14:52 GMT. 12)

- Current plans call for Cygnus to stay at the station for about two months until May 20th, when it will be unbolted and unberthed with about 2000 kg of disposible cargo.

- Following departure from the ISS, Cygnus will conduct three payload mission objectives as part of its flight program. Using a deployer provided by NanoRacks, the S.S. Rick Husband will place five CubeSats into orbit to conduct their own autonomous missions. Onboard Cygnus, theSaffire -1 ( Spacecraft Fire Experiment-I) will intentionally light a large-scale fire that will grow and advance until it burns itself out. The final experiment to take place aboard Cygnus will be the REBR (Reentry Breakup Recorder) of NASA. The ISS crew will install the REBR experiment on Cygnus as they pack the spacecraft with disposal cargo. REBR will measure and record data during Cygnus' safe destructive reentry into Earth's atmosphere.


Figure 5: As of March 26, 2016, five spacecraft are docked at the ISS including the new Cygnus CRS-6 vehicle of Orbital ATK installed to the Unity module (image credit: NASA)

Orbital ATK has two additional CRS missions scheduled in 2016 to support NASA's ISS cargo and payload mission needs. Following an Antares launch vehicle full-power hot-fire test, flight operations for Cygnus and Antares will resume mid-year from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in eastern Virginia. Under the CRS contract with NASA, Orbital ATK will deliver approximately 26,800 kg of cargo to the ISS over 10 missions through 2018. Beginning in 2019, Orbital ATK will carry out a minimum of six initial cargo missions under NASA's recently awarded CRS-2 contract.



Material Recycler (R3DO-ISRU) of Made In Space

R3DO is a plastic (Recycling system for creating 3D Printer feedstock On-Orbit) with ISRU (In-Situ Resource Utilization). If we are to truly remove dependency from Earth for space exploration it will be imperative to make use of in-situ resources. In pursuit of this goal, Made In Space has developed a technique (R3DO) for recycling plastic waste on ISS to be turned into feedstock for the 3D Print and AMF. As with the AM technologies, R3DO is a robotic space manufacturing machine that extends the capabilities for humans in space. With the R3DO and AM systems, the process of manufactured goods in space becomes closed loop. AMF builds useful parts for crew and once the part has performed its use, it is fed into R3DO where it is turned back into feedstock for AMF to build the next part (Ref. 1).

With these robotic space manufacturing technologies, the ISS will have an unprecedented ability to remain independent from Earth for material goods. Of course, this technology won't be the end-all-be-all for human needs, but it surely does augment the goods needed from resupply missions. For instance, a NASA PRACA (Problem Reporting and Corrective Action) study found that nearly 30% of the parts broken to-date on ISS were plastic parts that the AMF could have likely fixed. For the optimistic minded, this is surely just the beginning of the push for a broader use of in-situ resources and space manufacturing to come.

There is also an irony in what this technology means for human space flight: In the example of the Apollo 13 incident from earlier, it was pointed out that for deep space exploration the only link the crew has to Earth is that which can be sent via radio waves. What should be noticed now, is that with the 3D Print and AMF on ISS hardware can now be sent to the crew via radio waves. What should be noticed now, is that with the 3D Print and AMF on the ISS, hardware can now be sent to the crew via radio waves. Indeed, the digital blueprints for the robotic manufacturing process will be designed on the ground and beamed to ISS for manufacturing. With the very first print from 3D Print will begin a new paradigm in which launching on conventional rockets is not the fastest way to get material goods to space, in fact, we can now send these goods there at the speed of light.


1) Jason J. Dunn, Michael Snyder, "Reducing Earth dependency for human spaceflight through robotic space manufacturing," Proceedings of the 66th International Astronautical Congress (IAC 2015), Jerusalem, Israel, Oct.12-16, 2015, paper: IAC-15,A5,3-B3.6.7

2) "Additive Manufacturing Facility (AMF)," Made In Space, URL:

3) "Additive Manufacturing Facility (Manufacturing Device)," NASA, March 2, 2016, URL:

4) Cheryl Warner, Dan Huot, "NASA Sends Fire, Meteor Experiments to International Space Station on Commercial Cargo Spacecraft," NASA, Release 16-036, March 23, 2016, URL:

5) Steven Siceloff, "Cygnus Cargo Ship, Atlas V Blaze Path to Station," NASA, March 23, 2016, URL:

6) "Cygnus™ OA-6 Mission," Orbital ATK Factsheet, URL:

7) Kathryn Hambleton, Tracy Young, "NASA TV Coverage Set for Fifth Orbital ATK Resupply Mission to Space Station," NASA, March 17, 2016, URL:

8) Steven Siceloff, "Cygnus Set to Deliver Its Largest Load of Station Science, Cargo," NASA, March 18, 2016, URL:

9) "Sticky, stony and sizzling science launching to space station," Science Daily, Source NASA/JSC, March 9, 2016, URL:

10) Evan Gough, "First 3D Tools Printed Aboard Space Station," Universe Today, June 16, 2016, URL:

11) Kristine Rainey, "Building the Future: Space Station Crew 3-D Prints First Student-Designed Tool in Space," NASA, June 15, 2016, URL:

12) "Orbital ATK's Cygnus Spacecraft Successfully Berths With INternational Space Station," Orbital ATK, March 28, 2016, URL:

The information compiled and edited in this article was provided by Herbert J. Kramer from his documentation of: "Observation of the Earth and Its Environment: Survey of Missions and Sensors" (Springer Verlag) as well as many other sources after the publication of the 4th edition in 2002. - Comments and corrections to this article are always welcome for further updates (

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