Moffett Field Initiative Supports Next Generation Of Space 3D Printing

October 9, 2023

Design For Nanomanufacturing Lab Researchers Conduct their Microgravity Experiments

UC Berkeley researchers are working steadily to push science fiction into reality in associate professor of engineering Hayden Taylor’s lab. The group co-created a 3D printing technology, called Computed Axial Lithography, that can form parts in less than a minute. Due to the technology's fast speed, simplicity and compatibility, it makes it highly desirable for space exploration.

NASA’s Flight Opportunities office has chosen to fund over 1 million dollars into the project. The researchers, led by Ph.D. student Taylor Waddell, have already tested the technology on Zero-G’s G-Force One, with a payload called SpaceCAL. This aircraft creates short 20-second microgravity environments to run experiments in, but that was enough time for SpaceCAL to create parts. To date, the team has flown in three parabolic flights, manufacturing over 350 parts. Initial results and analysis of these flights were later published in Acta Astronautica.

Since then, the researchers have been developing the next generation microgravity printer that will be tested on a sub-orbital spacecraft. The group has partnered with the Canadian National Research Council (CNRC) and Lawrence Livermore National Labs (LLNL) to implement various improvements to the experiment, ranging from optical correction to material validation. The group has also partnered with the Fung Institute, through their Masters of Engineering program, to have five students work directly on the experiment for their capstone project. 

NASA has been crucial in developing this technology, both through their Flight Opportunities Program and with engineering support. Flight Opportunities is a program dedicated to advancing technology for eventual use in space exploration. The parabolic flights and the upcoming sub-orbital flight are made possible by funding through Flight Opportunities.

Most recently, NASA was able to lend a Space Shuttle Middeck Locker to the group to help them prototype initial concepts for their upcoming flight to space. Research and experiments like SpaceCAL can only be enabled with collaboration with NASA.