NASA bets on spacecraft that can 3D print and self-assemble in orbit

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Archinaut, a Construction Robot for Space, Could Launch a Test Flight in 2022: Off-Earth manufacturing is set to take a giant leap a few years from now. NASA has awarded California startup Made In Space $73.7 million to give the company's "Archinaut" spacecraft-assembly technology an orbital test.

The "Archinaut One" demonstration craft will launch to low Earth orbit aboard a Rocket Lab Electron booster no earlier than 2022, NASA officials [...] "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 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." (MORE)

NASA bets on spacecraft that can 3D print and self-assemble in orbit: . . . Now the goal is to build large spacecraft parts. That will require leaving the confines — and protection — of the ISS and moving their 3-D printing operation into the vacuum of space. The undertaking will require the machine to print parts larger than itself and then assemble them. Made In Space claims to have developed a system capable of integrating 3-D printing and robotics to do just that.

The plan is for Archinaut One to travel to low-Earth orbit and then print two telephone pole-sized beams on each side of the spacecraft. As the beams extend out, solar arrays will unfold on their tops that can generate 5 times more power than traditional solar panels on spacecraft of similar size.

If successful, the technology will be a game-changer for space exploration. One of the most significant limitations of space travel is how much stuff you can bring aboard your spacecraft. That’s not a problem if you can just build things you need once you need them. Space 3-D printing would let companies and governments construct complex structures in orbit and reduce the need for astronauts to do spacewalks for repairs. (MORE)

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