NASA invests in 3D printing to enable in-space manufacturing

July 18, 2019
Written by Folake Dosu

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In-space robotic manufacturing is the future of aerospace, according to NASA. The agency announced last week that it has awarded a $73.7 million contract to Mountain View-based Made In Space to demonstrate the capability of 3D printing spacecraft components in low-Earth orbit. 

Archinaut One is expected to launch on a Rocket Lab Electron rocket from New Zealand. While in low-Earth orbit, the spacecraft will 3D-print beams from each side of the spacecraft. These beams will generate as much as five times more power than traditional solar panels on spacecraft of similar size.

This technology is regarded as a breakthrough for America’s Moon to Mars exploration approach, an initiative that plans to send astronauts back to the Moon’s surface by 2024. This contract marks the second phase of Tipping Point, a private-public partnership involving 22 U.S. companies working with NASA to advance space exploration while cutting costs for the agency and, in turn, taxpayers. 

“In-space robotic manufacturing and assembly are unquestionable game-changers and fundamental capabilities for future space exploration. By taking the lead in the development of this transformative technology, the United States will maintain its leadership in space exploration as we push forward with astronauts to the Moon and then on to Mars.”

“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. “By taking the lead in the development of this transformative technology, the United States will maintain its leadership in space exploration as we push forward with astronauts to the Moon and then on to Mars.”

3D printing technology has the potential to transform space exploration by enabling remote, in-space construction of complex structures. It could also reduce the inherent risk of spacewalks for tasks that astronauts may no longer have to do.

Archinaut has been in the works for years, first debuting as a ground demonstration in 2016 before successfully 3D-printing structural beams in a space-simulation at a NASA facility a year later. 

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