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Industry

NASA funds 3D printing mission into space

NASA has awarded a contract to Made In Space that will see the company demonstrate the capabilities of 3D printing on a flight mission.

Article picture

An illustration of the Archinaut One satellite

The $73.7m (£58.8m) contract marks the second phase of the NASA-funded Archinaut technology development programme, initially awarded in 2016, to explore how 3D printing could be used to manufacture and assemble spacecraft components in low-Earth orbit.

Using a small spacecraft, called Archinaut One, Made In Space (MIS) will aim to demonstrate “transformative, near-term benefits for the satellite industry”.

Following a ground-based testing of Archinaut’s core additive manufacturing and robotic technologies, MIS has now been tasked with demonstrating the capabilities of 3D printing in low-Earth orbit.

Archinaut One is expected to launch on a rocket from New Zealand “no earlier than 2022”. Once in low-Earth orbit, the spacecraft will 3D print two beams extending 10m out from each side of the spacecraft.

As the additive manufacturing process progresses, the beams will unfurl two solar arrays that can generate as much as five times more power than traditional solar panels on spacecraft of a similar size.

In-space robotic manufacturing and assembly are unquestionable game-changers and fundamental capabilities for future space exploration

Michael Snyder, chief engineer at Made In Space, comments: “The Archinaut One mission is a critical proof point to validate the use of robotic manufacturing and assembly for space exploration and commercialisation activities.

“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-space robotic manufacturing and assembly are unquestionable game-changers and fundamental capabilities for future space exploration," says 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."

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