3D Printed Molds for Microgravity

The Goal

Currently, astronauts onboard the International Space Station (the ISS) have no way to manufacture tools or parts that are broken or need to be replaced. Instead, they must simply wait for the next supply flight to bring up replacements. This is both time- and resource-inefficient. To remedy this issue, NASA’s HUNCH program is challenging high school students to develop a method to mold components in space. The objective is to be able to use the 3D printer currently onboard the ISS to create a mold with ABS plastic, which can then be used to cast tools and parts out of other materials. Our approach slightly modifies this framework to optimize efficiency and ease of use, with a 3D-printed shell that is filled with the reinforcing material.

Meet the Team

Clear Brook HS

Syamantak Payra

My name is Syamantak Payra. I am a senior and this is my first year participating in HUNCH. I was inspired to do this project because I regularly work with 3D printing and I wanted to do more with its involvement in space.

Chanmarie Un

My name is Chanmarie Un. I am a junior and this is my first year participating in HUNCH. I do a lot of CAD work for robotics so I wanted to apply it to 3D printing in space. HUNCH is just one of the steps in my engineering endeavors.

Hunter Smith

My name is Hunter Smith. I am a senior and this is my first year participating in HUNCH. I've been doing robotics since middle school and through that I did a lot of CAD work. I think CAD and 3D printing in space go hand-in-hand.



In Depth Results

Model Review

Friday, February 9

This prototype was not functional.  We quickly found that the mold wouldn’t be reusable, and that what hot glue we could extract was not going to be in the shape we wanted. From this, we learned that removing a piece as small and intricate as a socket would be far too difficult, and that the extraction process would likely create shards or plastic dust that would be dangerous in the closed environment of the ISS. As a result, we changed our approach and decided to try to create a 3D printed shell that could be strengthened with epoxy.

Monday, February 19

This was our first functional prototype. Due to the nature of creating a shell that we would strengthen, we had a working prototype straight off the printer, however we needed to learn an effective method of implementing epoxy. We found quite a few wrong ways to put the epoxy in the mold, and this cause holes and gaps in the epoxy.

Thursday, March 1

This prototype was the same design as the previous, however we improved on our technique of putting the epoxy in the mold. We learned that the basic design was flawed, and we could improve this by creating more space between the outer wall of the hexagon and the inner wall of the cylinder. Furthermore, we decided to go away from the two part approach to our molds as this simply added complication to the specific design of a socket. This could easily again implemented to serve the needs of another tool.

Monday, March 19

Prototype 4 was the easiest version to make. The large size allowed for ease of epoxy injection and rebar insertion. Although this version was easy to work with, there were flaws in the actual mold. The 3D print did not extend the square cutout all the way through the mold. Regardless of this, the mold proved successful in showing that metal inserts could extend the structural stability throughout the entire entity.

Wednesday, March 28

This version ended with a few problems. For one, there were no readily available washers that would fit in this, and therefore we instead had to use the less elegant solution of paperclips. Understanding that washers and paperclips will not work in many other tools that could use this method onboard The ISS, we will be searching for a more robust solution to reinforce the filling agent. Furthermore, we may look to a stronger filling agent such as fields metal in order to strengthen the system, and prevent air bubbles.

Model Summary

Prototype 1

- Creates debris
- Hot glue is inefficient filler material
- Too many air bubbles

Prototype 3

- Opening was enlarged
- Epoxy was pre-mixed in syringe
- First successful mold

Prototype 2

- Viscosity impedes epoxy injection
- Larger opening required for filler material
- Filler material does not contact all walls

Final Iterations and Bracket

- Field's Alloy approved for use on ISS
- All models supported with metal rebar
- Bracket prove method versatility

Contact Form

Reach out to us for more details

Thank you! Your submission has been received!

Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form :(