When the media imparts stories about commercial Space, it generally concentrates on launch companies such as SpaceX and Blue Origin. After all, they make rockets that create spectacular graphics when they launch. The delivery of the Bigelow BEAM module has added the idea of commercial space stations to the mix. But, Aviation Week has a story that relates how future commercial companies will start to make things in space, thanks to the International Space Station.

One example of one of these partnerships between the commercial sector and NASA is a project by a company called Made in Space. Made in Space has delivered a 3D printer called the Additive Manufacturing Facility, a follow-up to a demonstrator prototype that NASA supported for the past couple of years.

The AMF will start producing for paying customers, including aerospace companies and engineering schools, which are keen to develop processes to build things in low Earth orbit. A run on the AMF will cost between $10,000 and $20,000.

The main innovation that the commercial aerospace sector is trying to develop consist of satellites that can be printed and assembled in space before being deployed. Currently, a satellite has to be small enough to fit on top of a rocket and robust sufficient to survive the stresses of being launched into orbit. But, if a satellite is built from raw materials and parts in a space facility, size and strength are no longer determining factors. Such satellites can have large, gossamer thin dishes and reflectors that would be impossible to launch from the ground.

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Once they are built, they can be released from a manufacturing facility and moved to its required orbit.

On a related note, Bigelow had forged a deal with the United Launch Alliance to launch its B330 expandable space habitats into orbit starting in 2020. Separately or docked together, these modules would serve as the basis of a private space station. Bigelow now has to find customers to finance said space stations. Using one of the B330s to custom build satellites in low Earth orbit would be one way for the company to make money and change how space is commercialized in profound and unexpected ways.