Robotic 3D Printing to Simplify Space-Based Construction

By: | January 17th, 2015

If the ambitious vision laid out in the Deep Space Exploration Plan is to be realized, one key component is having an efficient, effective, and reliable technology that will allow space-based construction of large-scale spacecraft components. IndustryTap has already reported on the First 3-D Printer in Space, currently in use on the ISS to quickly and cheaply manufacture equipment and space parts on demand. But a much larger 3D printing factory, capable of much larger output, is currently under development.

Space-Based 3D Printer

NASA has been working with a company called Tethers Unlimited (TUI) to develop a suite of technologies known as “SpiderFab” that will permit in-orbit fabrication of antennas, solar panels, trusses and other structures typically needed to make space stations.

SpiderFab, described in a presentation “SpiderFab: Process for Construction of Kilometer-Scale Apertures“, allows NASA and its customers to save on launch costs by shipping raw materials into orbit rather than heavier finished products. NASA has provided SpiderFab with $500,000 for Phase 1 of the project and another $500,000 for Phase 2, currently underway.

SpiderFab has developed the Tethers Unlimited SpiderFab Trusselator, an additive manufacturing device to make trusses and solar arrays capable of producing 300 kW of energy.

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David Russell Schilling

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