NASA is funding a $73.7 million program to manufacture and assemble spacecraft components in low-Earth orbit.
California-based Made In Space Inc. has won the multi-million dollar funding to demonstrate in-space robotic manufacturing and assembly technologies using a small spacecraft named Archinaut One.
The contract is the start of the second phase of a partnership established through NASA’s ‘Tipping Point’ solicitation.
The public-private partnership is said to guide the development of critical space technologies while also saving the agency and American taxpayers’ money.
According to NASA, Archinaut One will launch on a Rocket Lab Electron rocket from New Zealand in 2022.
Once it’s positioned in low-Earth orbit, the spacecraft will 3D print two beams that extend 32 feet out from each side of the spacecraft.
As manufacturing progresses, each beam will unfurl two solar arrays that generate as much as five times more power than traditional solar panels on spacecraft of similar size.
According to NASA, the small spacecraft could enable remote, in-space construction of communications antennae, large-scale space telescopes and other complex structures.
It could also enable small satellites to deploy large surface area power systems and reflectors that currently are reserved for larger satellites
The scheduled demo hopes to eliminate spacecraft volume limits imposed by rockets and also avoid the inherent risk of spacewalks by performing some tasks currently completed by astronauts.
Made In Space began working on Archinaut as a ground demonstration in 2016 and, just a year later, successfully 3D-printed structural beams in a unique NASA Ames facility that mimics the conditions of space.
Using a thermal vacuum chamber, the engineering team were able to prove the printing equipment and printed hardware can withstand the pressure, temperature, and other rigors of space.
The Archinaut team includes Made In Space, Northrop Grumman of Falls Church, Virginia, Ames, and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
Image and content: Made In Space Inc./NASA