NASA is developing an orbiting factory that will use 3D printing to build giant structures such as solar arrays and antennas up to 1.000 meters in length, as part of its search for extra-terrestrial life.
Tethers Unlimited (TUI), in collaboration with NASA, is currently 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.
When big structures are built in space, eliminates the cost and engineering requirements.
TUI CEO and chief scientist Dr Rob Hoyt, explains:
“On-orbit fabrication allows the material for these critical components to be launched in a very compact and durable form, such as spools of fiber or blocks of polymer, so they can fit into a smaller, less expensive launch vehicle. Once on-orbit, the SpiderFab robotic fabrication systems will process the material to create extremely large structures that are optimized for the space environment.
Currently spacecraft components are designed to be built on the ground and folded up to fit inside a rocket shroud. The process is complicated, expensive and limited by the availability and size of existing rockets.
This radically different approach to building space systems will enable us to create antennas and arrays that are tens-to-hundreds of times larger than are possible now, providing higher power, higher bandwidth, higher resolution, and higher sensitivity for a wide range of space missions.”
source Tethers Unlimited
NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Program announced today that it has selected TUI’s SpiderFab technology for award of a $500,000 Phase II contract. Under the SpiderFab effort, TUI will continue to develop technologies to enable spacecraft to use 3D printing and robotic assembly techniques to fabricate and integrate large components on-orbit. The SpiderFab technologies will enable creation of space systems with antennas, solar arrays, shrouds, and other components ten times larger than are possible with current deployable technologies, providing higher power, bandwidth, resolution, and sensitivity as well as lower life-cycle cost for a wide range of missions.
TUI is currently 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. SpiderFab provides order-of-magnitude packing- and mass- efficiency improvements over current deployable structures and enables construction of kilometer-scale apertures within current launch vehicle capabilities, providing higher-resolution data at lower life-cycle cost.
TUI is developing an architecture and a suite of technologies for automated on-orbit construction of very large structures and multifunctional space system components, such as kilometer-scale antenna reflectors. This process will enable space systems to be launched in a compact and durable ‘embryonic’ state. Once on orbit, these systems will use techniques evolved from emerging additive manufacturing and automated assembly technologies to fabricate and integrate components such as antennas, shrouds, booms, concentrators, and optics. 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. The net payoff will be to enable NASA to acquire and distribute a variety of forms of data at higher resolution, higher bandwidth, higher signal-to-noise, and lower life-cycle cost.