NASA is developing an orbiting factory that will use 3D printing and robots to fabricate giant structures such as antennas and solar arrays of up to a kilometre in length, as part of its ongoing search for extra-terrestrial life.
Currently spacecraft components are designed to be built on the ground and folded up to fit inside a rocket shroud. The process is complicated, expensive and limited by the availability and size of existing rockets.
Hoyt added: “This radically different approach to building space systems will enable us to create antennas and arrays that are tens-to-hundreds of times larger than are possible now, providing higher power, higher bandwidth, higher resolution, and higher sensitivity for a wide range of space missions.”
The technology would allow NASA to use far smaller rockets to deliver components to the orbiting factory, which could be used to manufacture trusses to hold solar arrays and solar sails, antennas and masts of almost unlimited size. TUI’s website suggests that kilometre-long trusses or football-field sized sails could be produced.
Space factories would also significantly reduce the risk involved in launching delicate equipment on rockets, where the chance of failure is high. Instead, relatively inexpensive raw materials would be launched into orbit.