RESEARCH

NASA partnership to revolutionise in-space manufacturing technology

SOURCE: NASA/Unsplash
The University of Alabama and NASA's Marshall Space Flight Centre partnership is set to create new technological developments to take Americans to the moon and beyond.


By U2B Staff 

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The University of Alabama is collaborating with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Centre in Huntsville on advanced and in-space manufacturing projects that are set to boost the space agency’s efforts to increase and develop space exploratory missions for the country. 

The partnership will facilitate research efforts in in-space manufacturing projects and strengthen educational policies in cultivating future aerospace talents. 

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In-space manufacturing (ISM) is an emerging area of research that aims to develop sustainable technology and processes which will enable on-demand manufacturing capabilities during long-duration space missions. 

This provides a solution towards sustainable and flexible space exploration missions through creating capabilities for on-demand fabrication, repair, and recycling of critical systems, habitats, and mission logistics and maintenance. 

ISM develops these capabilities by leveraging new technological breakthroughs that are developed on Earth before being adapted for operations in space. 

This is done through the usage of components found on Earth, as well as space components from the moon and Mars. Additive manufacturing processes such as 3D printing with plastics, electronics or metals are used to facilitate the development of these technologies. 

in-space manufacturing
In-space manufacturing innovations allow more sustainable space exploration efforts. Source: SpaceX/Unsplash

Combining the resources and technology from the Marshall Space Station with research and development expertise from the University of Alabama is a timely decision to facilitate more innovative ISM outputs. 

“Additive manufacturing is a rapidly evolving, disruptive technology,” said Marshall Space Flight Centre Director Jody Singer at the signing of an MOU with the University of Alabama. 

“As NASA continues to invest in in-space additive technology innovations, we welcome collaborations with industry and academia to develop these technologies. I applaud the University of Alabama for pursuing the development of advanced technologies that will help NASA achieve our mission.”

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Meanwhile, UA President Stuart Bell highlighted the importance of this collaboration to provide opportunities for students and researchers to offer solutions to real-world challenges and to train a skilled workforce of future aerospace engineers. 

“Working to further in-space manufacturing will establish the University’s expertise in the area while training a skilled workforce our state can rely on to remain competitive in the global economy,” said Bell. 

The university will do its part in bolstering student and researcher skill sets by enhancing its core curriculum in areas of advanced and in-space manufacturing. These include modelling, analysis and simulation, data analytics, robotics, rendezvous and capture, navigation, advanced materials, on-site resource utilisation, additive manufacturing, digital design, and manufacturing and construction. 

New collaborations to further these technologies will also be explored as the university aims to establish its presence as the leading innovator in the regional aerospace industry.  

NASA has agreed to share its resources, personnel, expertise, facilities and equipment, and technology with the university to advance aerospace research initiatives or to achieve mission goals.