NASA Funds Company to Develop Technologies to Produce 3D Printed Nanocarbon-infused Metals in Space

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA is funding a company to develop technology capable of 3D printing nanocarbon-infused metals in space for use in advanced electronics.

NASA selected Faraday Technology of Englewood, Ohio, for a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase II award worth up to $750,000 to continue development of the technology. The company previously received a SBIR Phase I award.

“An on-demand direct metal printing technology will be developed that can utilize the unique advantages of manufacturing in a zero-gravity Low Earth Orbit (LEO) environment, to produce value-added next generation materials that are challenging to manufacture terrestrially,” the company said in its proposal summary. “One such class of materials, covetics (nanocarbon-infused metals), are inherently difficult to produce on Earth but have great in-space and terrestrial commercial potential due to their enhanced physicochemical properties, such as higher thermal/electrical conductivity and higher strength at lower mass as compared to conventional wrought metals.

“A successful demonstration of the direct print method and module’s viability through the zero-gravity flight test will align the covetic manufacturing technology with space approved hardware and reduce the entry barrier toward LEO demonstration in Phase IIE/III,” Faraday Technology added.

The proposal summary is below.

LEO Manufacturing of 3D Printed Covetic Nanomaterials for Advanced Electronics
Subtopic: Low Earth Orbit (LEO) Platform Utilization to Foster Commercial Development of Space

Faraday Technology, Inc.
Englewood, Ohio

Principal Investigator: Timothy Hall

Estimated Technology Readiness Level (TRL):
Begin: 4
End: 5

Duration: 24 months

Technical Abstract

An on-demand direct metal printing technology will be developed that can utilize the unique advantages of manufacturing in a zero-gravity Low Earth Orbit (LEO) environment, to produce value-added next generation materials that are challenging to manufacture terrestrially. One such class of materials, covetics (nanocarbon-infused metals), are inherently difficult to produce on Earth but have great in-space and terrestrial commercial potential due to their enhanced physicochemical properties, such as higher thermal/electrical conductivity and higher strength at lower mass as compared to conventional wrought metals.

This program will develop the technical capabilities of the direct print method and module to print covetic materials on-demand in an LEO environment with the desired material property enhancements. Alignment with NASA and commercial space needs, and acceleration of integration of the technology into NASA’s mission, will be done by designing and building a direct print module and method can be incorporated into nScrypt’s multi-module platform, for subsequent demonstration in a parabolic loop zero-gravity flight test. (Note: the nScrypt multi-module system is the same that NASA’s On-Demand Manufacturing of Electronics group is installing on the International Space Station in FY2024).

A successful demonstration of the direct print method and module’s viability through the zero-gravity flight test will align the covetic manufacturing technology with space approved hardware and reduce the entry barrier toward LEO demonstration in Phase IIE/III.

Finally, the commercial viability will be established by outreach to the communities interested in covetic material properties and by identifying a pathway to system scale and implementation on commercial space platforms. As the market value is validated and technical method is demonstrated on International Space Station, we will work with commercial space companies (Axiom Space) to scale and transition the technology.

Potential NASA Applications

Next generation materials like ‘covetics’ have the potential to meet many of NASA’s needs on-board the International Space Station and in spacecraft systems. These materials have high thermal and electrical conductivity and high strength, and could be utilized to make spot structural repairs, be printed into forms like electronic components or sensors, or be utilized as heat exchanger materials. An approach for on-demand manufacturing of covetic materials and components on-board the ISS has a wide potential impact on NASA logistics and safety.

Potential Non-NASA Applications

Two early adopter markets for nano-carbon infused metals (covetics) are thermal management solutions and electronics maintenance/repair. Both terrestrial and in-space commercial applications, e.g., space stations and satellites, could benefit from next-generation materials. In 2020 the thermal management market was $8.8B, while the electronic repair market was $15B, both growing at a CAGR of 8%.