If Made In Space and NASA have their way future satellites, solar arrays and antennas won't be made on earth and sent to the far reaches of outter space. They will be made in orbit, thanks to 3D printers.
That's the vision of the Mountain View, California-based startup that for around nine years has been working with NASA to develop the ability to print 3D objects in space and then use robots to assemble the parts.
Made In Space and NASA try to overcome space constraints
The company has already had successes since its inception in 2010. According to a profile in SpaceNews, it sent a 3D printer to the International Space Station in 2015 and has been working since then to enhance these microgravity 3D printers. It also has a more than $70 million contract with NASA to make ten-meter solar arrays, on orbit. Once on orbit, Archinaut One, which is a small satellite that has a 3D printer and robotic arm, will manufacture and assemble the power system. In 2022 the Archinaut One satellite is slated to reach orbit.
“As an agency, we have always had constraints when it comes to accessing space,” Jim Bridenstine, a NASA administrator said during a tour of Made In Space in late August, reported SpaceNews. “One of the major constraints is the size of a fairing of a rocket and the weight of the things that we launch into space and the amount of materials. All of these constraints drive solutions that are not optimum and cost more.”
3D printing in space has wide implications
The implication of being able to print objects in space is far and wide. According to NASA's Bridenstine, it could aid NASA in its future exploration missions including lunar Gateway, which is NASA's plan to land a man and woman on the southside of the moon in 2024. NASA's Bridenstine called the ability to print in space "transformational."
“Autonomous, robotic manufacturing, and assembly will reshape the landscape of space exploration and space infrastructure and we are taking a monumental step towards that future,” said Andrew Rush, MIS president, and CEO in a press release announcing the NASA contract in July. “Through our partnership with NASA, we will build a space-optimized asset on-orbit, for the first time, that will prove the efficacy of this technology, reduce the risk posture, and manifest new opportunities for in space manufacturing.”