If Made In Space and NASA are able to do things their way, the future satellites, solar arrays, and antennas that are built on Earth and sent to space will be substituted with building them in orbit thanks to 3D printers.
This is the idea of the Mountain View – a startup that is based in California and has been working in collaboration with NASA for the last nine years. Its aim is to come up with the capability of printing 3D objects in space and then making use of robots for assembling the parts. The company has already managed to get a few milestones ever since its inception in 2010. It sent a 3D printer to the International Space Station back in 2015 and has been working on enhancing these microgravity 3D printers.
Mountain View also has a contract worth more than $70 million with NASA aimed at creating ten-meter solar arrays, on-orbit. Once on orbit, Archinaut One – a small satellite featuring a 3D printer and robotic arm – manufactures and assembles the power system. Archinaut One satellite is scheduled to reach orbit in 2022. Jim Bridenstine, a NASA administrator, said, ‘As an agency, we have always had constraints when it comes to accessing space. One of the major constraints is the size of a fairing of a rocket and the weight of the things that we launch into space and the number of materials. All of these constraints drive solutions that are not optimum and cost more.’
It has been further said by Bridenstine of NASA that the capability of being able to print in space will assist with the future missions including lunar Gateway. Andrew Rush, Made In Space President and CEO, said, ‘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. Through our partnership with NASA, we will build a space-optimized 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.’