NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate selected space 3D printer manufacturer Made In Space to create large-scale 3D printing capabilities.
The Space Technology Mission Directorate, or STMD, is a special arm of NASA that coordinates the investigation and development of new technologies that NASA may require for future missions. It’s quite fascinating to examine their list of requirements - and realize that these things could become reality.
NASA just announced a series of awards for such technology requirements in a series of public-private partnerships, some nine in total. Of course, the selected companies’ work will also cascade down onto subcontractors of all kinds.
Specifically, Made In Space was selected for developing a “Versatile In-Space Robotic Precision Manufacturing and Assembly System” as part of the “Robotic In-Space Manufacturing and Assembly of Spacecraft and Space Structures” tipping point solicitation. They call the program, “Archinaut”.
This is a little different than a 3D printer per se; it’s not likely to be a giant 3D printing device you’d recognize, but rather a more robotic approach of assembling pre-made components and onsite-3D printed items into a large structure. In a way, that’s very similar to today’s ground-based 3D printers, which also “assemble” material into smaller structures. There is no doubt Made In Space will leverage their existing technological capabilities to develop the new approaches.
We’ll see the results of this venture in the form of several technology demonstrations in coming years, in which Archinaut will attempt to build structures of increasing complexity independently in space.
If their venture succeeds, we could see NASA able to more efficiently ship complex (or, as they say, “unlaunchable”) structures into deep space, far beyond the ability of astronauts to assemble them. Instead, they could be built by Made In Space robotic assemblers.