NASA awards $73.7 million contract to Made In Space for orbiting Archinaut 3D printing spacecraft

Californian off-world manufacturer Made In Space has been awarded with a $73.7 million contract from NASA to demonstrate 3D printing in a Low Earth Orbit (LEO). 

Using Archinaut One, a small spacecraft capable of additive manufacturing in micro-gravity, Made In Space will 3D print two extending 10 meter beams from each side of the system. Each beam will enable two solar arrays that generate five times more power than traditional solar panels on satellites of similar size. 

Jim Reuter, associate administrator of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, explained, “In-space robotic manufacturing and assembly are unquestionable game-changers and fundamental capabilities for future space exploration.”

“By taking the lead in the development of this transformative technology, the United States will maintain its leadership in space exploration as we push forward with astronauts to the Moon and then on to Mars.”

Moon to Mars

The Archinaut system, first announced in 2015, integrates Made In Space’s Extended Structure Additive Manufacturing Machine (ESAMM), which 3D prints engineering thermoplastics in the vacuum and temperature environment of space. Last year, the Archinaut system manufactured a 37.7 meter-long beam which was recognized by the Guinness World Record as the “longest 3D printed non-assembled piece.”

The aim of the Archinaut project is to allow for remote, in-space construction of communications antennae, large-scale space telescopes and other complex structures. This will eliminate the spacecraft volume limits imposed by rockets and reduce the risk of spacewalks by performing tasks currently completed by astronauts.

According to NASA, such technology could be influential for the Moon to Mars exploration approach, which aims to return astronauts to the surface of the Moon by 2024. As a result, earlier this month, NASA secured funding for over 18 early-stage 3D printing projects developing technologies aiding its next mission to the Moon. 

Model of the Made In Space satellite making Archinaut. Photo via Made In Space
Model of the Made In Space satellite making Archinaut. Photo via Made In Space

Archinaut One

The enacted private-public partnership between NASA and Made In Space is the start of the second phase of a collaboration established through NASA’s Tipping Point program. This involves 22 U.S. companies working to advance “robotic and human exploration of the solar system by shepherding the development of critical space technologies.”

In April 2019, Made In Space’s Archinaut: ULISSES and Archinaut: DILO, used to fabricate and assemble frame-like structure and large reflectors, were deemed ready to orbit. With the announcement of this new contract, Archinaut One is expected to launch on a Rocket Lab Electron rocket from New Zealand no earlier than 2022.

The Made In Space team working on Archinaut
The Made In Space team working on Archinaut. Photo via Made In Space.

For all the latest in additive manufacturing and aerospace subscribe to the 3D Printing Industry newsletter and following us on Facebook and Twitter.

Visit 3D Printing Jobs to find new opportunities in additive manufacturing. 

Featured image shows  an illustration of Archinaut extending construction on a satellite. Image via Made in Space.