Tethers Unlimited hopes to enable inexpensive construction of truly massive structures in outer space by leveraging 3D printing and robotics.
The company is developing a "Trusselator" as a first step under a NASA experimental contract that will be able to build large trusses in a weightless environment.
The machine spins out a completed truss by joining extruded pipes with 3D printed joints. By altering the shape of the joints, different forms of large structures can be easily created.
So far they've identified two interesting uses for the technology: a Star Shade that obscures the light of a distant star to enable optical detection of its planets and a massive 100m reflector dish.
The Star Shade in particular will require sub-millimeter accuracy in both positioning and shape to ensure exoplanet detection. The 3D printer component will produce the Shade's edge to that level of precision.
If successful, we suspect Tethers Unlimited will be able to create a lot more than just a Star Shade and Reflector. As our post How Big is the Space 3D Printing Market? suggests, this could be only the beginning.