NASA Invites Proposal from Space-Based Large-Scale 3D-Printing Company
How soon will we see Made In Space make in space?
The International Space Station (ISS) is the most collectively expensive object built by humans. The total estimated cost is believed to be close to $150 billion. Aside from the direct costs of the structure itself, ISS required 36 Space Shuttle flights to assemble the station; each costing an approximated $1.4 billion – not to mention the costs of international partner missions.
Taking that into perspective, as well as understanding the risk, design decisions and restrictive payload sizes related to launching space structures into orbit, any technological breakthrough that would lower those costs, risks and design requirements would be a boon – to say the least.
Archinaut is an in-space robotic manufacturing and assembly platform designed by Made In Space (MIS), that is capable of constructing space-optimized systems of sizes not previously feasible.
And last week, NASA invited MIS to submit a proposal for a technology flight demonstration mission of its Archinaut technology.
NASA’s Space Technology and Mission Directorate (STMD) awarded MIS its initial Archinaut contract in 2016 under the Tipping Point program, which was established to fund public-private partnerships to achieve NASA’s goals of expanding space capabilities and helping develop next-generation technologies to grow the U.S. economy and strengthen the nation’s economic competitiveness. The Tipping Point program funds technology development until the point of maturation where commercial companies take over, buying products and supporting for further capability development.
The core technology of Archinaut is the Extended Structure Additive Manufacturing Machine, or ESAMM. ESAMM is an additive manufacturing capability that enables manufacturing of large structures not limited by traditional build volumes. MIS proved out the transformational ESAMM capability in the summer of 2017 during thermal vacuum testing at NASA Ames Research Center. Since then, MIS has been developing ESAMM-based flight mission architectures for a variety of commercial and government customers.
MIS is working with high-strength space-grade polymers, such as PEI/PC ULTEM (polyetherimide/ polycarbonate), on its Archinaut technology and, is developing metal capabilities for missions which require metallic properties.
“NASA is ushering in a new era of manufacturing and assembly technologies for space,” said Andrew Rush, MIS president and CEO. “The Archinaut technology that we’re advancing provides considerable, never-seen-before capabilities for NASA, commercial, and other government customers. We’re pleased with our progress in assembling a world-class team with tremendous technical expertise to compete for Phase II work.”
Since 2016, MIS has made significant advancements in space-capable extended structure additive manufacturing and robotic assembly.
“Archinaut is a transformational capability that supports space exploration and other critical in-space missions for a variety of customers,” added Rush. “This technology enables us to build space-optimized structures in space. What this means is we can now build larger and bigger structures that can deliver greater capabilities at a much lower cost and with less risk.”
MIS’s team includes Northrop Grumman for systems integration and avionics work and Oceaneering for robotics capabilities.
“We’re preparing for an important thermal vacuum chamber test of the entire manufacturing and assembly system this summer,” said Eric Joyce, Archinaut project manager. “We’ve made considerable progress in raising the technology readiness level and lowering the risk associated with bringing this technology to space.”