Imagine a satellite able to repair itself. When a solar panel degrades or an antenna gets stuck, the satellite simply 3-D prints a replacement and goes on with its business.
Futuristic? Yes. Likely in a couple of decades? Also yes, says Made In Space CEO Andrew Rush. His company just completed testing of an autonomous construction platform called Archinaut. Inside of a test chamber intended to simulate the vacuum of space, Archinaut took the first steps towards its eventual goal — to build antennas, solar arrays and similar components on newly launched satellites.
The ultimate goal is to reduce costs for satellite manufacturers. Antennas and solar arrays are unwieldy and must be stowed during launch, then deployed out in space. There’s potential that they can get stuck. Also, stowage assemblies are massive and thus expensive to launch — mass means more fuel and more fuel means more money spent on the rocket.
“This is really transformational, because everything we’ve sent to space we fold up and blast it into space. We have to design it unfurl itself perfectly and survive the rigors of launch,” Rush said.
There’s also potential to revolutionize repair. Many of the larger satellites operate in orbits far higher than the reach of astronaut teams, and it is also difficult to send robotic “helpers” to rescue stranded machines. The distance between individual satellites is huge and their orbits do not necessarily align, so any robot would need to carry a lot of fuel to move from place to place.
For now, Archinaut uses cutting-edge autonomous technology and “machine vision”, which uses sensors and algorithms (a process or set of rules a computer follows) to ensure things are built where they’re supposed to be, and connected properly. Archinaut can perform its own inspection and verification to confirm “we’ve built the same thing we were going to build,” Rush said, including fitting the exact tolerances that space manufacturing requires.
NASA gave Made in Space and its partners — subcontractors Northrop Grumman Corp. and Oceaneering Space Systems — $20 million in funding in 2015 to create the first “additive manufacturing” (3-D printing) and assembly of complex systems in space without the help of astronauts.
With this funding, Rush said, the hope is “we will push the technology over a commercial tipping point, where it will be adopted by the commercial sector. It will not only be really useful for government missions, but it will be useful for commercial missions, and we will have reduced the risk enough to where it will get picked up and utilized in the commercial sector.”
The team also did a month-long thermal vacuum chamber test in June 2017 at NASA Ames Research Center, creating the first 3D-printed objects in an environment simulating space. Made In Space is already known for constructing additive printers that are in use on the International Space Station, which is being tested to see if astronauts can construct tools on the spot rather than waiting for the next spaceship delivery.
In the more distant future, Rush said, this technology will — borrowing from rocket parlance — help satellites move from being expendable, to being reusable. “Having satellites that have integrated manufacturing capabilities is not even a leap, but the next step,” he said. Rush added that having such technology on satellites is a shift in mindset, where satellites are engineered to reconfigure and repair themselves and become more resilient, ultimately staying in orbit for longer and servicing customers at lower cost.
While Archinaut’s launch date hasn’t yet been released, the new testing raises its NASA-rated “technology readiness level” showing that the core technologies are ready to operate in space, Made In Space added in a blog post.
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Think of a satellite able to fix itself. When a photovoltaic panel deteriorates or an antenna gets stuck, the satellite merely 3-D prints a replacement and happens with its service.
Futuristic? Yes. Likely in a number of years? Likewise yes, states Made In Area CEO Andrew Rush. His business simply finished screening of a self-governing building platform called Archinaut. Within a test chamber planned to imitate the vacuum of area, Archinaut took the initial steps towards its ultimate objective– to construct antennas, solar selections and comparable parts on freshly released satellites.
The supreme objective is to lower expenses for satellite producers. Antennas and solar selections are unwieldy and should be stowed throughout launch, then released out in area. There’s capacity that they can get stuck. Likewise, stowage assemblies are huge and hence costly to release– mass implies more fuel and more fuel implies more loan invested in the rocket.
” This is truly transformational, since whatever we have actually sent out to area we fold and blast it into area. We need to create it unfurl itself completely and endure the rigors of launch,” Rush stated.
There’s likewise possible to transform repair work. Much of the bigger satellites run in orbits far greater than the reach of astronaut groups, and it is likewise tough to send out robotic “assistants” to rescue stranded devices. The range in between private satellites is big and their orbits do not always line up, so any robotic would require to bring a great deal of fuel to move from location to location.
(************ )In the meantime, Archinaut utilizes advanced self-governing innovation and “maker vision”, which utilizes sensing units and algorithms (a procedure or set of guidelines a computer system follows) to make sure things are constructed where they’re expected to be, and linked effectively. Archinaut can perform its own assessment and confirmation to verify “we have actually constructed the very same thing we were going to construct,” Rush stated, consisting of fitting the specific tolerances that area production needs.
NASA provided Made in Area and its partners– subcontractors Northrop Grumman Corp. and Oceaneering Area Systems– $20 million in financing in 2015 to develop the very first “additive production” (3-D printing) and assembly of complex systems in area without the assistance of astronauts.
With this financing, Rush stated, the hope is “we will press the innovation over a business tipping point, where it will be embraced by the industrial sector. It will not just be truly beneficial for federal government objectives, however it will work for industrial objectives, and we will have decreased the danger enough to where it will get gotten and made use of in the industrial sector.”