U.S. space agency NASA has recently announced its ongoing development of an orbiting factory in space that will soon develop 3D printing facilities.
As part of an ongoing search for extraterrestrial life, NASA is awarding technology firm, Tethers Unlimited Inc. (TUI) a $500,000 phase II contract to develop the facility. Phase I of the contract was awarded earlier this year.
Phase II will allow TUI to continue working on SpiderFab, a technology that allows space craft components to be built in space, which will reduce the expense all together of building structures on earth and transporting material to space.
The orbiting factory will use 3D printing and robots to assemble large structures such as antennas, solar arrays, sensor masts and shrouds on-orbit.
Dr. Rob Hoyt, TUI’s CEO and Chief Scientist said: “On-orbit fabrication allows the material for these critical components to be launched in a very compact and durable form, such as spools of fiber or blocks of polymer, so they can fit into a smaller, less expensive launch vehicle…Once on-orbit, the SpiderFab robotic fabrication systems will process the material to create extremely large structures that are optimised for the space environment.
“This radically different approach to building space systems will enable us to create antennas and arrays that are tens-to-hundreds of times larger than are possible now, providing higher power, higher bandwidth, higher resolution, and higher sensitivity for a wide range of space missions.”