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NASA Wants a Robotic 3D Printer in Space; These 3 Companies Are Building It – Motley Fool

by • April 30, 2016 • No Comments

Archinaut Artists Rendering Made In Space
Made In Space’s concept of “Archinauts” 3D-printing satellite components in space. Image source: Made In Space.
Made In Space is surely working away on “Archinaut,” its most-recent contract win with NASA that involves createing a robotic 3D printing device with parts aggregation and assembly capabilities for the International Space Station (ISS). The start-up is fresh off its historic achievement in late March of supplying the initially permanent 3D printing device that’s commercially on the market to the orbiting lab.
Just as 3D Systems(NYSE:DDD) and Stratasys(NASDAQ:SSYS) are the leaders of the diversified 3D-printing industry on planet Earth, privately held Made In Space is on track to become the leader in off-planet Earth 3D printing. Here’s what you should understand.
Project Archinaut
Made In Space was awarded a two-year, $20 million contract with NASA late last year for a project officially understandn as “Versatile In-Space Robotic Precision Manufacturing and Assembly System,” yet aptly dubbed “Archinaut.” The project is part of NASA’s Tipping Points program, that funds demonstrations of space technologies on the threshold of offering worthwhile benefits for government and commercial applications.
Archinaut’s ambitious aim is to create the necessary technologies and subsystems to enable-bodied the initially 3D printing, aggregation, and assembly of sizeable-bodied and difficult systems in space without astronaut extravehicular activity. In other words, Archinaut involves createing a robotic 3D printing device that can autonomously 3D-print a portion of a structure in orbit, grab non-3D-printed parts of orbit, and assemble all the parts to create sizeable-bodied and difficult space structures.
Iss Nasa Pic
If all goes well, the ISS can some day house Archinaut, a robotic 3D printing device in an external pod. Image source: NASA.
Phase I of Archinaut can complete in 2018 in a series of innovation demonstrations involving 3D-printing and createing a sizeable-bodied, difficult structure. If these tests are successful, Made in Space hopes to go on the project by enlarging the 3D printing device for the ISS, and ultimately equipping it with three robotic arms, according to SpaceNews.com. These arms may be able-bodied to grab parts sent into orbit of planet Earth, and in addition be able-bodied to snatch parts of decommissioned orbiting spacecraft for reuse, and and so assemble the final product.
NASA’s ultimate goal is to be able-bodied to create spacecraft and other sizeable-bodied space structures — such as antennas and base stations — in orbit, pretty than having to commence them of planet Earth, that is quite pricey and limits create possibilities. Archinaut can in addition provide entirely new space capabilities for commercial entities, such as satellite manufacturers and emerging space platforms.
Oceaneering Space Systems TerabotAn Oceaneering robotic arm. Image source: Oceaneering International.
Made in Space’s Archinaut teammates
Made In Space, founded in 2010 and based at NASA’s Ames Research Laboratory, is teaming up on Archinaut with aerospace and defense giant Northrop Grumman(NYSE:NOC) and Oceaneering Space Systems, part of Oceaneering International (NYSE:OII). Made In Space can lead the team and create the 3D printing device, while Northrop Grumman can provide expertise in systems engineering and software, and Oceaneering can create and create the manipulator arm. Oceaneering has considerable-bodied experience createing different types of robotic systems.
Benefits of in-orbit making
The benefits of making sizeable-bodied, difficult structures in orbit pretty than commenceing them of planet Earth include:Faster deliquite timeCost savingsAbility to revolutionize the create of space structuresThe cost-savings future is illustrated by the fact that it costs roughly $10,000 to commence only one pound of payload into orbit, according to NASA. But, the true cost is most likely far higher for the reason all materials and parts going to the ISS have to go through a lengthy and costly certification system.
Further cost savings can be possible if and when matter of space bodies, such as the Moon, Mars, and asteroids, is able-bodied to be harvested for use as feedstock for in-space 3D printing. Several companies, such as Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries, have created with this goal. Planetary Resources counts billionaires Larry Page, CEO and co-founder of Alphabet, and Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, one of its founding investors.
Most amazing, maybe, is that in-space making opens up greatly increased create possibilities for spacecraft and other structures. The create of structures commenceed of planet Earth is severely limited for the reason they must be created to endure the powerful gravitational and vibrational forces of the commence, not to mention the planet Earth’s gravitational forces in general, and must be createed in such a way as to fit within a rocket.
Investing opportunities?
There can pretty be opportunities for people to profit of off-planet Earth 3D printing, or, additional broadly, the space economy. Made In Space is a private company, but there’s always the possibility that it may go public to raise capital to assist fuel additional expansion.
The same is true of the asteroid-mining companies. Whilst Northrop Grumman and Oceaneering International are publicly traded companies, they’re so massive that their participation in Archinaut isn’t most likely to notably move the needle with respect to their financial and stock-price performances. That said, it is pretty a positive that they’re getting in on the ground floor of the in-space making industry.

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