The way spacecraft are built is about to change. Tethers Unlimited just received a $500,000 Phase II contract from NASA to continue its plans for robots that will use 3D printing
to create spacecraft in space. If it succeeds, squeezing satellites and other spacecraft into rockets could become a thing of the past.
NASA has helped fund development of SpiderFab, which plans to build spacecraft from materials
delivered by rocket.
Image credit: TUI
The program, known as SpiderFab, relies on spider-like robots that print large components from materials that are sent to space via rockets. “On-orbit fabrication allows the material for these critical components to be launched in a very compact and durable form, such as spools of fiber or blocks of polymer, so they can fit into a smaller, less expensive launch vehicle,” said Tethers Unlimited CEO Dr. Rob Hoyt in a statement. The company points out that sending materials to space and then building the spacecraft there will make it easier to create large structures, which can lead to “football-field sized antennas and telescopes.”