Last year, NASA began the Archinaut project, or, as it’s formally titled, Versatile In-Space Robotic Precision Manufacturing and Assembly System. To describe the project, undertaken in collaboration with several partners, as ambitious would be an understatement. The two-year endeavor involves the construction of a massive 3D printer, equipped with a robotic arm, that is capable of fabricating structures in the middle of outer space.
The Archinaut 3D printer is being developed by Made In Space, known for the production of the first 3D printer ever to go into space, as well as its follow-up, the Additive Manufacturing Facility, now in operation on the International Space Station. Today, Made In Space released two new video renderings of Archinaut in action, and they’re quite amazing. Take a look:
We also had the opportunity to speak with Andrew Rush, President and CEO of Made In Space, as he answered A Few Questions For us about Archinaut’s technology and the progress the company is making on its design and fabrication.
Can you tell us some details about how Archinaut’s 3D printing technology works?
“Archinaut is an in-space manufacturing and assembly technology for satellites. Archinaut additively manufactures nodes, trusses and boom structures in orbit from a satellite bus. At the heart of Archinaut is our Extended Structure Additive Manufacturing Machine (ESAMM). The system gives us higher packing efficiencies for deployable space assets. Electrical components can be integrated into the structures during the manufacturing process. Robotic arms then autonomously assemble the nodes, struts, or other structures into the desired assembly.
Important to point out is these manufactured assets or structures are optimized for the space environment. They’re able to reconfigure or repair themselves in orbit using robotic technology. This gives our assets more resiliency.”
What sorts of materials does it use for 3D printing?
“Different mission profiles require different materials and prefabricated components, therefore the variety of feedstocks available for use by Archinaut is broad and includes multiple spaceflight-proven polymers, metals, and composites.”
What is the next stage of Archinaut’s development?
“We are currently proving out the technologies needed to make Archinaut fully functional and utilizable in a space environment. We’re in the midst of an extensive ground testing phase. This work is being carried out via the NASA-funded Archinaut Development Program.”
What do you see as the greatest impact this technology will have once it’s complete?
“Archinaut will enable us to build really large structures and platforms that could never be launched from Earth. It has the potential to completely alter current approaches to spacecraft design and construction.
Archinaut enables in-space production and assembly of backbone structures for large telescopes, repair, augmentation, or repurposing of existing spacecraft, and unmanned assembly of new space stations. Spacecraft leveraging Archinaut are optimized for the space environment rather than the launch environment, enabling significantly more capable systems produced at lower costs as required for today’s commercial markets and NASA’s future mission needs.
The Archinaut platform expands on the in-space manufacturing technology that Made In Space has previously developed. As the only company in the world commercially manufacturing in space, Made In Space is able to leverage that expertise to design the world’s most versatile in-space manufacturing technology to date.
Today, we’re limited in what we can send to space by the size of the launch vehicle. When you build on orbit what you normally have to launch from Earth, you no longer have to account for size, weight, and gravitational limitations. All of a sudden, it becomes realistic to talk about building really really large complex structures in space, like synthetic aperture radars, large communications, and reflectors. We can also integrate prefabricated components from the ground to assemble fully metalized reflectors, integrate with shaped antennas and solar panels. Simply put, the potential of this technology is huge, and it ultimately will enable the construction and design of man-made, space-based structures larger than we’ve ever seen up to this point.”
Archinaut is truly something we’ve never seen the likes of before, and while we talk a lot about how 3D printing is changing our relationship to outer space, this 3D printing robot has the potential to make one of the greatest impacts on what we can accomplish outside the Earth’s atmosphere. The scope of the project has to be seen to be grasped, and thanks to the videos released today, we can finally get an idea of the magnitude of what Made In Space, NASA and their partners are working to accomplish.
What do you think of these new videos? Share your thoughts in the Archinaut forum at 3DPB.com.