Robots Will 3D Print Future Spacecraft In Space
3D printing is rocketing in popularity at the moment, and the uses range from small toys to replacement hips, but this is all small-fry compared to the plans of a NASA funded mission called SpiderFab. If SpiderFab is successful, the spacecraft of the future won't be built here on Earth, they won't be built from regular metals or alloys, and heck, they won't even be built by humans.
For many years now, human space travel has been limited by the fact that in order to get a spacecraft into orbit, we must construct it or it's component parts right here on Earth and subsequently use rocket propulsion to deliver it into space. This is an inherently inefficient and costly method, one that consumes massive quantities of space agency budgets. But that could all be about to change.
Tethers Unlimited (TUI) are the ambitious team behind SpiderFab, and they hope to revolutionize the space systems industry by constructing spacecraft components, wait for it.... in space. According to TUI, SpiderFab is a "revoltionary suite of technologies" that can "enable on-orbit fabrication of large spacecraft components such as antennas, solar panels, trusses and other multifunctional structures".
This means that with SpiderFab, the only thing you will need to ship from Earth are the raw materials for each component, which in SpiderFab's case, come in the form of printable polymers. Yes, we said printable polymers. That's because SpiderFab aims to use advanced 3D printing technology to churn out massive spacecraft components, larger than any currently in orbit today.
It's an attractive prospect, one that NASA have already spotted the potential in, with the agency recently signing off on $500,000 to fund phase 2 testing of TUI's SpiderFab technology. There's still a long way to go, but the TUI team are hopeful that, if on the ground testing goes well, then on-orbit testing is just a few years away.
If you're intrigued (how couldn't you be) and you want to learn more, a TUI presentation on SpiderFab is available below: