3D printing is already one of the most #trending technologies, and now it’s really about to blast off.
Made In Space (the same genius company that collaborated with NASA to build a 3D printer on board the International Space Station) is teaming with the space agency again to develop Archinaut, an unprecedented new concept that will make it possible to assemble spacecraft where it has a technical advantage—in space.
Archinaut is about to revolutionize the space industry. The vision is to outfit a spacecraft with a 3D printer and flexible robotic arms that will be able to autonomously manufacture satellites and other structures while in orbit. Spacecraft assembled in the final frontier have the advantage of not needing to be folded on Earth before being deployed. It also eliminates the need for engineering the craft to survive launch from terra firma, instead allowing for them to be “space-optimized.” This futuristic tech could also be useful in producing parts to upgrade existing satellites.
“Archinaut enables fundamentally new spacecraft designs and reduces the costs associated with qualifying a satellite for launch,” says Made in Space on its site. “The synergy of its manufacturing and assembly capabilities are critical to constructing entire spacecraft on orbit.”
The challenge for Made in Space is to research, test and re-test an ideal method for the in-space manufacturing of spacecraft and replacement parts. NASA’s Ames Research Center is where they are currently experimenting with different approaches, as well as incorporating sample analysis from the 3D printer aboard the ISS, aka the Additive Manufacturing Facility or AMF, into their trials. Prototypes are almost ready to take it up a level. Robotic arms will be soon added, and this is just Phase 1.
Phase 2 is still TBD, but a demo mission will be critical for proving to NASA that Archinaut is viable. The test run should be able to manufacture a small structure on its own. While Made in Space CEO Andrew Rush is looking at 2018, he acknowledges that the tentative date may need to be pushed back.
That doesn’t stop Rush from having galactic expectations. He is optimistic that enormous things are on the horizon, including construction of huge telescopes that will have some parts manufactured off-Earth. This could mean some of the largest space telescopes ever coming into being, since there is a size limit for folding them to stash inside a rocket’s nose cone. We can only imagine what instruments like this will observe.
"That's what we think is the attainable future that Archinaut enables," he said of future projects he wants to get off the ground. If what Made in Space has already conceptualized is any indication, prepare to be blown away.