3D Printer HardwareAerospace AMAM for SpaceMetal Additive Manufacturing

AddUp and Airbus deliver first metal 3D printer to operate in space to ESA

It was successfully launched by NASA Mission NG-20 towards the International Space Station

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AddUp, a global metal additive manufacturing OEM, and Airbus Defence & Space, have delivered the first metal 3D printer to the European Space Agency. This metal 3D printer was developed by an industrial team led by Airbus Defence and Space under a contract with the European Space Agency (ESA), co-funded by Airbus Defence and Space. It leverages metal wire DED technology, which AddUp acquired through the merger with BeAM.

The metal 3D printer was designed to evaluate the capabilities and performance of additive technology and to perform metal disposition in 3D under sustained microgravity conditions. On Tuesday, January 30, 2024, the metal 3D printer was successfully launched by NASA Mission NG-20 towards the International Space Station. Printing operations are expected to start in late February or early March.

The ability to manufacture spare parts directly in space, without having to transport them from Earth, marks a new stage to propel the next generation of space exploration. This will generate millions in savings and pave the way for human spaceflight by making their autonomous operation viable.

The AddUp metal 3D printer for ESA (Image: ESA)

Metal 3D project

The “Metal3D” project began in 2016 when the European Space Agency awarded the contract to Airbus Defence & Space. A key objective of the project was to develop the first metal 3D printer to operate under microgravity, aboard the International Space Station safely. AddUp, a leader in metal 3D printing, has been supporting the Airbus group for over 10 years, not only with the supply of flight parts but also on a variety of innovation projects.

AddUp’s Technical Director, Sébastien Devroe commented on the expertise that the AddUp team brought to the project, saying that “the development of the Metal 3D printer relies on the unique multidisciplinary expertise of AddUp’s engineers and researchers. Our staff has expertise across various additive manufacturing processes, machine design, programming and operation optimization. Our teams have supported the development of this first space metal 3D printer, which will soon be in orbit. The metal 3D printer has been designed and optimized to meet the conditions and environment of the International Space Station”

“AddUp was chosen for this project based on a long history and partnership rooted in exploration and innovation,” explained Elodie Viau, Head of Engineering at Airbus Space Systems. “We were confident that with the knowledge and experience the AddUp team has, combined with the technological expertise of Airbus, together we would be successful in delivering a high quality and efficient metal 3D printer to support the exploration of space.”

AddUp and Airbus Defence and Space deliver the first metal 3D printer to operate in space to ESA aboard NASA Mission NG-20 towards the ISS
Samples produced by the Metal 3D Printer before launch to the space station. Photo courtesy of ESA.

A new stage in space exploration

The metal 3D printer will be installed in the ISS in early 2024, on board the Columbus European Science Module, alongside the other experiments carried out by European teams.

Four specimens are planned to be printed by the metal 3D printer in the Columbus module and for reference and comparison, these specimens will also be printed on the ground. The specimens will be returned to Earth, analyzed and compared with those produced on the ground. These experiments aim to make extraterrestrial metal 3D printing viable, for example, for the manufacture of spare parts. Metal 3D printing in space would limit the logistics need from Earth, which can take up to 12 months between preparation, take-off and delivery.


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Davide Sher

Since 2002, Davide has built up extensive experience as a technology journalist, market analyst and consultant for the additive manufacturing industry. Born in Milan, Italy, he spent 12 years in the United States, where he completed his studies at SUNY USB. As a journalist covering the tech and videogame industry for over 10 years, he began covering the AM industry in 2013, first as an international journalist and subsequently as a market analyst, focusing on the additive manufacturing industry and relative vertical markets. In 2016 he co-founded London-based VoxelMatters. Today the company publishes the leading news and insights websites VoxelMatters.com and Replicatore.it, as well as VoxelMatters Directory, the largest global directory of companies in the additive manufacturing industry.

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