Giant structures in space are a staple of the science fiction medium for decades, found in films, television series and books across the world. But actually building structures like this has always remained a distant goal for humanity.
The dangers and pressure of space mean that building in the infinite vacuum is far more complex than say, building a house on Earth. One of the primary issues is that building structures in space will likely have to be undertaken by machines, as it would likely be impossible for humans to build such giant structures under such limiting conditions. Even structures such as satellites and telescopes are built on Earth before being launched into space.
But there is good news for anyone who dreams of humanity taking that step closer to the stars with news that Made In Space, Inc (MIS) has been hard at work with this goal in mind. MIS has long history with their partnership with NASA that includes sending a Zero-Gravity Printer to the Internal Space Station, allowing it to manufacture the first object in space in 2014.
Large Scale Structures With Archinaut
3D printing is helping to advance science in a multitude of ways, including in the vast expanse of space. This includes Archinaut, a Technology Demonstration Mission from NASA in conjunction with MIS that aims to both build and assemble supersized structures in space.
The test used the Extended Structure Additive Manufacturing Machine from MIS and was conducted at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California. It involved printing large beam segments that are similar to what would be used to construct space structures such as satellites and telescopes. The difference here is that the tests were done in a vacuum chamber that was created to simulate the complexities of space including the pressure and temperature that would be expected.
Eric Joyce, Archinaut project manager for MIS, said: “To our knowledge, this is the first time additive manufacturing has been successfully tested on such a large scale in the vacuum and temperature conditions of space,”
Why Is This Important?
Being able to use 3D printing in space is incredibly important, as it can allow items to be created when needed. This means that astronauts are not left waiting for a launch to receive items that are crucial to their mission. Another advantage is that by being able to print whatever is needed in space, it will free up plenty of space in launch vehicles.
It is, understandably, very expensive to send items into space and what can be sent is limited due to the size constraints of space shuttles. This can explain why it is not feasible to build large structures for space on Earth, as it would be incredibly hard to get the sections from Earth to space.
Archinaut could help to eliminate many of these issues if successful and is fully launched, by allowing it to potentially become what NASA describes as a ‘Build-to-order space platform’. As Joyce further explains, rockets could instead be used to send the raw material needed to build a vehicle into space, which would then be printed by Archinaut.