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Business Brief: Company Behind Parts 'Made In Space' Likely To Expand In Jacksonville

When parts break on the International Space Station, astronauts can get instant replacements thanks to onboard 3-D printers. In this “Business Brief,” analyst John Burr tells WJCT News Director Jessica Palombo those 3-D printers are made by a company called Made in Space, and it has a growing operation in Jacksonville.

Burr spoke with Made In Space CEO Andrew Rush and head of product strategy, Spencer Pittman, last week in Jacksonville, where they were visiting from the company’s headquarters in Mountainview, California.

The two met in Jacksonville three years ago while they were both checking out the city’s start-up scene. Rush has a physics degree from the University of North Florida and had just graduated from Stetson University law school. Pitman, who went to Harvard to study astrophysics and mathematics, had returned after several years in the start-up world of Boston and New York.

The company, under a NASA contract, has built and operated a 3D printer on the International Space Station, making basic replacement parts for the station and satellites.

The challenge of sending up already-assembled parts is they must be engineered to withstand the intense shaking and gravitational forces of rocket liftoff, which last about 10 minutes. But if parts can be built in space, raw materials can be sent up far more cheaply and quickly to be used in the onboard printer.

This summer, Made in Space is set to begin a more expansive program called Project Archinaut under a new $20 million NASA contract. The goal there is to combine robotics and 3D printing to build larger components of space stations and satellites. Essentially, they’ll enable space station building in space.

Made in Space has some heavyweight partners in Project Archinaut, including Northrop Grumman and Oceaneering Space Systems. The NASA contract is for two years, but if it goes well, Rush and Pitman expect it to be expanded.

Right now, the company has about 20 people working in its main engineering office in California and seven employees in its Jacksonville operations and business-development office in Mandarin. They expect to add about 20 employees over the next year.  

They are on the lookout for people with expertise in robotics; electrical, mechanical and software engineering; and business development.

WJCT Business Analyst John Burr is a veteran journalist who has been been directing news coverage and reporting in Jacksonville since 1983. He is currently also a news analyst for WJCT, where he can be heard regularly on the "First Coast Connect" media roundtable.