NASA has awarded a contract to California-based Made in Space Inc. to demonstrate the ability of its Archinaut One spacecraft to 3d-print and assemble satellite components in low-Earth orbit. The $73.7 million contract is the second phase of NASA Tipping Point program, which was established to advance emerging space capabilities.
“In-space robotic manufacturing and assembly are unquestionable game-changers and fundamental capabilities for future space exploration,” said Jim Reuter, associate administrator of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate.
Once in orbit around Earth, the Archinaut One will 3D-print two 10-meter booms that will extend out of each side of the spacecraft. As the booms are produced, their progress will unfurl two solar arrays that are expected to generate as much as five times the power of traditional solar panels on spacecraft of a similar size.
Work on the Archinaut One began in 2016 with teams from Made in Space, Northrop Grumman and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Just a year later, the teams successfully 3D-printed structural beams in a thermal vacuum chamber that mimics the conditions of space at NASA’s Ames Research Center. The test validated the technology proving its ability to withstand the temperature, pressure and other rigours of space.
The Archinaut One spacecraft is set to be launched aboard a Rocket Lab Electron rocket no earlier than 2022.