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3D Printing in Orbit!

Spaceflight Now reports on some fascinating news concerning Made in Space and NASA.  Apparently, NASA has awarded Made in Space a contract to 3D print satellite structures in Earth’s orbit.

Made in Space, which is based in California, has partnered with NASA before on many separate projects involving additive manufacturing in space.  Now, however, NASA has given them a $73.7 million contract “for a 3D printing demonstration using a free-flying small satellite to additively manufacture solar array beams in space.”

This satellite mission, named Archinaut One, “will have the ability to 3D print its own structures in orbit.  The small satellite is set for launch no earlier than 2022 from New Zealand on a Rocket Lab Electron rocket.”

“Archinaut One will 3D print two beams, extending 10 meters (32 feet) from each side of the spacecraft.”  According to NASA, “as manufacturing progresses, each beam will unfurl two solar arrays generating as much as five times more power than traditional solar panels on spacecraft of similar size.”

Made in Space believes these 3D printed solar array booms will enable “future power-hungry missions, which could use smaller spacecraft launched by less expensive rockets, and still produce the electricity of a much larger conventional spacecraft.”

For its part, NASA foresees “in-space robotic manufacturing and assembly technology [like the Archinaut One project] could be important for future human expeditions to the Moon and Mars, where astronauts will be far removed from ground-based supply chains for replacement parts and other equipment.”

Image and Quotes Courtesy of Spaceflight Now

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