A project to 3D-print bulky components in space instead of bringing them up there has won $ 73.7 million from NASA to demonstrate space technology. Archinaut, a mission that has been developed by Made In Space for several years, could be launched as early as 2022.
The problem at hand is that if a spaceship is to have 60 foot long solar panels, you will need to bring 60 feet of structure to these arrays – they just can not flutter like ribbons. But where do you put a 60-foot bar or two 30-foot bars or even ten 6-foot bars, if you only have a few cubic feet of space to put them in? It very quickly becomes very complicated to bring objects with only one big dimension into space.
Archinaut's solution is simple. Why not just take the material for this long component in the room and print it out right away? There is no more compact way to hold the material than a brick of solid material.
Of course, this extends (as it were) to more than just rods and rods ̵
Made in Space already has contracts with NASA and has 3D printing of parts aboard the International Space Station demonstrated. It has also been shown that it can print materials in an artificial vacuum that more or less corresponds to a space environment.
The Archinaut One demonstration mission would not begin before 2022 aboard a Rocket Lab Electron launcher and after you have reached a stable orbit to extrude a pair of jets that will eventually extend over 32 feet. On these supports flexible solar arrays are mounted, which unfold at the same speed and are attached to the rigid structures of the carrier. When they are done, a robotic arm will snap them in and do other work.
You can see everything in this, unfortunately, not particularly exciting video:
Once completed, this pair of 32-foot solar arrays would theoretically be fivefold the Generating power that a spaceship of this size normally needs to store for the orbit of a rainy day would certainly be desirable.
In another print, the robot arm could rearrange parts, plug in connectors, and perform other tasks to create more complex structures like those in the concept graphic above. However, this is good in the future – the current demonstrator mission will focus on the beam and array thing, though the team will certainly learn a lot about how to do other builds in this process.
Of course in space travel is a big concern for a country that plans a permanent presence on and around the moon. It's a lot easier to do something there than make a quarter million mile delivery. Further projects by Archinaut and Made In Space along the spatial printing line can be found on the company's blog.