Opportunities and challenges in additive manufacturing used in space sector: a comprehensive review

Kashif Ishfaq, Muhammad Asad, Muhammad Arif Mahmood, Mirza Abdullah, Catalin Iulian Pruncu

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: The purpose of this study is to compile the successful implementation of three-dimensional (3D) printing in the space for the manufacturing of complex parts. 3D printing is an additive manufacturing (AM) technique that uses metallic powder, ceramic, or polymers to build simple/complex parts. The parts produced possess good strength, low weight, excellent mechanical properties and are cost-effective. This saves a considerable amount of both time and carrying cost. Thereof the challenges and opportunities that the space sector holds for AM is worth reviewing to provide a better insight into further developments and prospects for this technology. Design/methodology/approach: The potentiality of 3D printing for the manufacturing of various components under space conditions has been explained. Here, the authors have reviewed the details of manufactured parts used for zero gravity missions, subjected to onboard International Space Station conditions and with those manufactured on earth. Followed by the major opportunities in 3D printing in space which include component repair, material characterization, process improvement and process development along with the new designs. The challenges such as space conditions, availability of power in space, the infrastructure requirements and the quality control or testing of the items that are being built in space are explained along with their possible mitigation strategies. Findings: These components are well comparable with those prepared on earth which enables a massive cost saving. Other than the onboard manufacturing process, numerous other components and a complete robot/satellite for outer space applications were manufactured by AM. Moreover, these components can be recycled on board to produce feedstock for the next materials. The parts produced in space are bought back and compared with those built on earth. There is a difference in their nature i.e. the flight specimen showed a brittle nature and the ground specimen showed a denser nature. Originality/value: The review discusses the advancements of 3D printing in space and provides numerous examples of the applications of 3D printing in space and space applications. The paper is solely dedicated to 3D printing in space. It provides a breakthrough in the literature as a limited amount of literature is available on this topic. The paper aims at highlighting all the challenges that AM faces in the space sector and also the future opportunities that await development.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages15
JournalRapid Prototyping Journal
Early online date27 Sept 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 27 Sept 2021


  • 3D printing
  • additive manufacturing
  • implementation barriers
  • NASA
  • spacecraft
  • sustainability


Dive into the research topics of 'Opportunities and challenges in additive manufacturing used in space sector: a comprehensive review'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this