NASA funds Made in Space demo to 3D print and assemble spacecraft components in orbit

Space-based manufacturing company, Made in Space has been awarded a 73.7 million USD contract from NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) to demonstrate the abilities of its Archinaut platform for the autonomous robotic manufacture and assembly of components in low-Earth orbit.

The contract marks the second phase of the NASA-funded Archinaut technology development programme and follows a successful ground-based testing campaign of Archinaut’s core additive manufacturing (AM) and robotic technologies, qualifying the platform for spaceflight.

“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. “Through our partnership with NASA, we will build a space-optimised 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.”

The aim of the Archinaut One flight demonstration mission is to 3D print two 10 metre solar arrays from each side of the spacecraft, on orbit, to power an ESPA-class satellite. Expected to launch on a Rocket Lab Electron rocket from New Zealand no earlier than 2022, Archinaut One will employ its extended structure AM capabilities to manufacture and assemble the satellite’s power system. The two solar arrays will yield nearly five times the power currently generated with traditional solar panels on similar sized spacecraft.

“The Archinaut One mission is a critical proof point to validate the use of robotic manufacturing and assembly for space exploration and commercialisation activities,” Michael Snyder MIS Chief Engineer commented. “These technologies allow us to circumvent the design constraints imposed by the launch environment and create space optimised structures and assemblies thereby demonstrating unprecedented capabilities.”

In support of Archinaut’s flight demo mission, MIS will continue its partnership with Northrop Grumman along with a number of other companies and universities including Ames and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, to successfully demonstrate the technology. 

“In-space robotic manufacturing and assembly are unquestionable game-changers and fundamental capabilities for future space exploration,” said Jim Reuter, associate administrator of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate. “By taking the lead in the development of this transformative technology, the United States will maintain its leadership in space exploration as we push forward with astronauts to the Moon and then on to Mars.”

Archinaut has been in development since 2016 starting and has already been successfully deployed to 3D print structural beams in a NASA facility that mimics the conditions of space.

The Archinaut One mission is said to demonstrate transformative, near-term benefits for the satellite industry including remote, in-space construction for communications device and complex structures. Robust small satellite power systems, manufactured on-orbit, would reduce launch mass and cost while increasing capabilities as small satellites could host power-intensive payloads previously reserved for larger platforms.

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