Archinaut snags $73 million in NASA funding to 3D-print giant spacecraft parts in orbit

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A project to 3D-print bulky components in space rather than bring them up there has collected $73.7 million contracts from NASA to explain the technique in space. Archinaut is a mission that is being developed for several years now and it can launch as soon as 2022.

However, the main problem is:

“If you want a spacecraft to have solar arrays 60 feet long, you need to bring 60 feet of structure for those arrays to attach to. They can’t just flap around like ribbons. But where do you stash a 60-ft pole or two 30-ft ones, or even 10 six ft? ones when you only have a few cubic feet of space to put them in? It gets real complicated real fast to take items with even a single large dimension into space.”

Archinaut’s solution is actually very simple. They suggested that they can simply take the material for the long component into space and print it out on the spot. That’s because there is no other compact way to keep the material than as a brick of solid matter.

Naturally, this extends to more simply pole and rods, sheets of large materials for things like light sails, complex interlocking structures on which other components can be mounted. There are many things too big to take into space in one piece. But which could be made of smaller ones if necessary?

Made in Space have already made contracts with NASA and has also explained 3D printing of parts abroad the International Space Station. It has also shown that it can print things in an artificial vacuum which happens to be more or less equivalent to a space environment.

Archinaut One, the demonstrator mission would launch aboard a Rocket Lab Electron launch vehicle no earlier than 2022. After achieving a stable orbit it will start extruding a pair of beams that will eventually extend out 32 feet. These beams will have solar arrays attached to them that will unfurl at the same rate as the rigid structures attached to the beams.

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