For the 2014 X-Hab Academic Innovation Challenge, the University of Wisconsin - Madison student team is creating an in-situ manufacturing workstation. Throughout the process, the team will design a practical and cost-efficient prototype to be delivered to NASA for integration into the Deep Space Habitat. The project as a whole provides the students, faculty, statewide communities, and businesses with a unique opportunity to participate in a NASA design.
Through a comprehensive design, construction, and testing process, we will produce a deployable 3D printer which will facilitate long-term space exploration and habitation. An expanded human occupancy of space means that parts will travel farther and new, unforeseen needs will present themselves. In lieu of shipping necessary replacement parts at a high cost, a 3D printer can manufacture virtually any item the crew requires. An onboard, collapsible 3D printer increases the crew's capability and comfort, while simultaneously reducing mission cost and alleviating storage constraints.
Badger COMET is an innovative solution to the unique set of design challenges required by 3D printing in space. In order to meet our objectives, the Badger COMET design will be mobile, collapsible, and lightweight. Badger COMET will print most models within a 2'x2'x2' volume by extruding high strength thermoplastic. User and environmental safety are high priorities in all design and build decisions. Following these objectives, the team will design an innovative 3D printer for the deep space habitat, an important step for humanity to extend its reach into space.
Current Design (Current as of 11/12/13)
The Badger COMET design is a dual-axis collapsible 3D printer capable of printing ABS products through Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM), a manufacturing method
that involves heating a solid plastic filament to its melting point, then depositing the liquid plastic in layers, which cool to form the solid object. Numerous
3D printers currently available on the market utilize the FDM process. What makes the Badger COMET stand out is its focus on the following design parameters:
- Collapsible Design for Storage
- Lightweight, Composite Material Components
- Enhanced Market Design
- Enhanced Safety and Electronics
- Custom Firmware
Currently producing an overall 92% reduction in volume, the Badger COMET collapses along two axes for storage, allowing the system to take up less space when not in use. Much of the collapsing process is initiated manually, giving the user control over when the system is engaged and in use. Combined with an enhanced electronics package, the Badger COMET is one of the safest 3D printers on the market, with specialized sensors designed to detect overheating in crucial components including the motors and extruder module, contact sensors to detect complete deployment before operation (with printing halted at any point folding is detected by the system), and digital positioning sensors for the best possible accuracy of motor actuation and feedback.
Lightweight components are a major focus of the Badger COMET design due to its intended use in space. The use of specialized composite materials, specifically carbon fiber, within the structural members and tracks provides the necessary rigidity and strength without sacrificing overall weight. Size optimization in other components is also utilized, specifically in the realm of the motor actuation, connection mechanisms, and fasteners, all with the general goal of reducing the total weight and size of the system for use. With a printing volume of 2' x 2' x 2', the reduction in volume combined with low weight design will produce the most capable 3D printer available in the current market.
The electronic systems are upgraded in comparison to current printers on the market with enhanced safety features and sensors as explained above. Even the firmware running the actual file conversion and system actuation has been upgraded, with a focus on increasing overall print accuracy, speed, and performance of all components. Additional components of the design focus on giving the user more options during printing, including a time-sensitive pause system that automatically declares a part unsuitable if the system is paused too long. Further features in the design include:
- Ability to print an entire assembly without separation of parts into individual files
- Enhanced determination of time to print and user interaction to cancel printing if print is too long
- On-Board memory allowing reprint of models and storage of previous models in case of power loss
- Embedded STL conversion allowing a model to be directly uploaded to the printer without the need for external software
- Enhanced LCD interface giving the user more feedback during printing and better options before printing
Overall, the Badger COMET aims to exceed many of the current market design standards while also producing components specific to use in space. With an overall focus on reduction of volume for storage, lightweight composite material components, and enhanced electronics, the Badger COMET aims to be the premiere choice in in-situ manufacturing both on and off Earth.