With all the innovations in 3D printing, it’s only logical that the technology would be used to further space exploration. However, creating gigantic parts and transporting them beyond the earth’s atmosphere is a massive feat. As such, NASA has awarded $73.7 million in funds to Archinaut, an initiative by Made in Space, to demonstrate its capabilities to 3D print large objects in space.
The contract is part the public-private partnership through NASA’s Tipping Point solicitation programme, an initiative to further develop and advance critical space technologies. A technology is considered to be at its “tipping point” if an investment into a demonstration of its capacities will significantly advance the technology’s maturation, increase the likelihood of its integration into a commercial space application, and improve the technology’s chances of successfully entering the market.
“These awards enable us to continue to foster partnerships with the commercial space sector that not only leverage capabilities to meet NASA’s strategic goals, but also focus on US industry markets that are at a tipping point for commercialization and infusion,” Steve Jurczyk, associate administrator for Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) at NASA, said in a 2015 statement. “At NASA, technology drives exploration and partnering with the private sector in this way supports the innovation economy and creates jobs.”
According to 3DPrintingIndustry.com, the Archinaut system integrates the Made in Space’s Extended Structure Additive Manufacturing Machine (ESAMM), a device that can 3D print engineering thermoplastics in the vacuum and temperature environment of space.
In 2017, the Archinaut system created a 37.7-meter-long beam that was recognised by Guinness World Records as the world’s “longest 3D printed non-assembled piece.” The accomplishment was one of many that has been used to showcase the capacities of the technology.
The Archinaut system is meant to facilitate remote, in-space construction of massive complex structures such as communications antennae and space telescopes. By creating the tools and devices in space, the technology will eliminate the spacecraft volume limits imposed by rockets and reduce the risk of spacewalks by carrying out tasks currently completed by astronauts.
“In-space robotic manufacturing and assembly are unquestionable game-changers and fundamental capabilities for future space exploration,” Jim Reuter, associate administrator of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, said in a recent statement. “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 One may launch as soon as 2022. According to NASA, the technology may play an essential role in the organisation’s Moon to Mars exploration approach, which aims to return astronauts to the surface of the moon by 2024.