Manufacturing large structures in space like space stations and space telescopes and could be also called 3D printing or additive manufacturing.
Last updated: 2018-11-23
Multiple entities are actively developing prorotype systems under NASA and DARPA contracts which could scale to kilometer lengths. In many cases starting from carbon composite structures.First launch in 2019 by Kleos Space to cure long composite booms for RF emissions monitoring antennas.
- Space stations
- Solar arrays
- Space telescopes
- Space antennas, reflectors, radars
- Very long booms and shields
- Moon and Mars bases
Why & Solution
Satellites and most space structures have been designed to fit into launcher fairing and to survive the launch environment. In other words, they are inefficient in terms of mass and volume or complicated deploymable systems. Manufacturing or atleast assembling many structures in space could mean they can be much lighter and weaker and larger.
Archinaut from Made In Space is a technology platform that enables autonomous manufacture and assembly of spacecraft systems on orbit. Archinaut enables a wide range of in-space manufacturing and assembly capabilities by combining space-proven robotic manipulation with additive manufacturing demonstrated on the International Space Station (ISS) and in terrestrial laboratories. An initial version of Archinaut is the Optimast™ boom manufacturing system. Optimast systems can be integrated into commercial satellites to produce large, space-optimized booms at a fraction of the cost of current deployables. Other implementations of Archinaut enable in-space production and assembly of backbone structures for large telescopes, repair, augmentation, or repurposing of existing spacecraft, and unmanned assembly of new space stations. Spacecraft leveraging Archinaut are optimized for the space environment rather than the launch environment, enabling significantly more capable systems produced at lower costs as required for today’s commercial markets and NASA’s future mission needs. 1
In-Space Manufacturing (Kleos Space, Magna Parva) has developed a patented in-Space manufacturing system that will provide a method of producing huge carbon composite 3D structures in space. A prototype system has been successfully built and tested under ‘near space’ conditions at our development facility. It demonstrates the potential for the production of assemblies, equipment or even buildings from fully cured and consolidated carbon fibre materials, potentially miles in length. Patented (GB2500786B) precision robotic technology manufactures 3D space structures using a supply of carbon fibres and a resin that are processed by pultrusion through a heat forming die in a continuous process, producing cured carbon composite elements of extraordinary length that also encompass intelligent elements such as sensors, fibre optics or wiring. As the resin and materials behave differently in space, the development has included testing under both ambient atmospheric and vacuum conditions. While pultrusion itself is an established manufacturing process, it has now been scaled down to a size where the equipment can be accommodated on spacecraft, and further work is under way to advance the technical readiness of the concept. Manufacturing speed of prototype system is 1mm/s, equating to 1 mile of structure per 18 days. 2 3
Tethers Unlimited (Firmamentum) is developing a revolutionary suite of technologies called "SpiderFab" to enable on-orbit fabrication of large spacecraft components such as antennas, solar panels, trusses, and other multifunctional structures.The primary benefit of this on-orbit fabrication capability will be order-of-magnitude improvements in packing efficiency and system mass, which will enable NASA to use small, low-cost launch vehicles to deploy systems dramatically larger than possible with current state-of-the-art technologies. Technologies range from prototype space-based 3-D printer called FabLab and the Trusselator, a device to create lengthy carbon composite structures in orbit. Space Systems Loral hired Firmamentum to demonstrate how a small satellite could use the Trusselator to extend the distance between its antennas, sensors or solar arrays. For the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Firmamentum is developing OrbWeaver, a small satellite to ride into orbit on an Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle Secondary Payload Adapter ring, chew up the ring and turn the pieces into a satellite antenna. 4
In parallel they privately funded the development of expertise and technology to produce fibre in space. Their first fibre machine visible on Figure 5 was launched to the ISS in 2017 to test the system and draw some fiber. Same unit was returned to Earth and sent back to ISS again in 2018. More fiber was drawn in April 2018 and the unit was returned to Earth in the summer of 2018. The results are proprietary, but in August 2018 they raised their first outside funding round when before they primarily sustained themselves through government grants.
Our long term goal is to create a powerful space construction industry able to complete any sized projects ranging from LEO to lunar orbit. Orbital Assembly will become a buyer of space construction equipment from engineering firms all over the world producing machines and tools designed for Space: Fabrication, Assembly and Construction (FAC).
Earthly Solution Risk
None as they will stay in space unless completely new methods for launch are invented.