Scientific American reports on yet another breakthrough brought about by the intersection of the space and 3D printing industries. Made In Space, the company which built the first two 3D printers to be sent (and used) in space on the International Space Station, has just recently announced even more exciting news:
“a 3D printer built by the California-based company churned out multiple polymer-alloy objects – the largest of which was a 33.5-inch-long (85 centimeter) beam – during a 24-day test inside a thermal vacuum chamber (TVAC) in Silicon Valley at NASA’s Ames Research Center in June.”
As Made In Space representatives proudly pointed out, “this milestone marks the first time a 3D printer has created ‘extended structures’ in a space-like environment.”
This 3D printer “is a component of Archinaut, a robotic system that Made In Space is developing under a NASA ‘tipping point technologies’ contract. Archinaut will also feature robotic arms, which will work with the 3D printer to build and assemble structures in the final frontier…such technology will allow for the design and manufacture of much larger and more ambitious spacecraft, since they won’t need to fit inside a rocket’s nose cone and survive the rigors of launch.”
As NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate Head Steve Jurczyk explains: “we do believe that in-space robotic manufacturing and assembly is going to revolutionize the way we design and deploy and operate systems in space. Archinaut could enable a wide range of in-space manufacturing and assembly capabilities.”
Indeed, without Archinaut, NASA missions “would take multiple launches of partially assembled systems, which would be expensive. Archinaut would make things much easier and cheaper. Mission managers would just have to launch feedstock material to the three-armed spacecraft, which would build [large structures] in orbit.” Archinaut could also repair and augment existing objects in space.
“Based on what he’s seen, Jurczyk estimates that Archinaut could be up and running by the mid-2020s.”
Image and Quotes Courtesy of Space.com and Scientific American