NASA announced that it has invested in a company to continue developing "SpiderFab" technologies for in-space fabrication of large spacecraft components.
Currently if you want to send large structures into orbit, it is common practice to build them on the ground, and design them to fold up to fit within a rocket shroud. This approach is very expensive, and the size of these components is limited by the volume of available shrouds.
NASA announced on Thursday it has selected Tethers Unlimited, Inc. (TUI)'s SpiderFab technology for award of a $500,000 Phase II contract to continue to develop technologies to enable spacecraft to use 3D printing and robotic assembly techniques to fabricate and integrate large components on-orbit.
TUI, a space technology development company based in Bothell, WA is currently developing "SpiderFab" to provide order-of-magnitude packing- and mass- efficiency improvements over current deployable structures and enables construction of kilometer-scale apertures within current launch vehicle capabilities.
"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." said Dr. Rob Hoyt, TUI's CEO and chief scientist.
"Once on-orbit, the SpiderFab robotic fabrication systems will process the material to create extremely large structures that are optimized 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." said Dr. Hoyt. It will enable NASA to acquire and distribute a variety of forms of data at higher resolution, higher bandwidth, higher signal-to-noise, and lower life-cycle cost.
SpiderFab project (credit: Tethers.com)
In parallel with this project, TUI is working under a NASA Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract to develop a "Trusselator" device that will fabricate truss structures to enable in-space construction of large solar arrays.
"The Trusselator is the key first step in implementing the SpiderFab architecture," said Dr. Hoyt. "Once we've demonstrated that it works, we will be well on our way towards creating football-field sized antennas and telescopes to help search for Earth-like exoplanets and evidence of extraterrestrial life."
Posted in 3D Printing Applications
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