In Space No One Can Hear You Build

SpiderFab: 3D Printing Robots Construct Structures in Space


Aerospace firms will soon be testing robots, called SpiderFab, to see whether they can be used to 3D print satellites and structures in space.

“Robot Spiders in Space” may sound like an old B-Movie title. But this Nasa-backed project could come reality.

SpiderFab is an initiative from Washington-based Tethers Unlimited Inc (TUI). After completing a deal with Space Systems Loral (SSL), a commercial satellite firm, their spider-like robots could soon be launched into space. The aim is to test whether the robots can 3D print reliable structures in orbit.

The arachnid-style machines will be used to 3D print trusses which form the basis of satellites, solar panels, and sensors. If the tests are a success, a whole fleet of SpiderFab robots could be used to print structures in space.

Watch Robert Hoyt, from Tethers Unlimited explain the reasons for creating SpiderFab:

Benefits of SpiderFab in Space

The deal with SSL will see the firm’s Dragonfly program fly TUI’s on-orbit fabrication, or “Trusselator” technology onboard.

SSL’s Dragonfly program is working on testing the construction of satellites for geostationary communications in space. Meanwhile, TUI’s Trusselator will be working on making beams in space which can support sensors, antennae or solar panels.

The benefits of SpiderFab are that printing in space allows for scalability. For example, there would be no need for satellites to be folded into a protective shell on a rocket and launched into space. Instead, they can be printed using raw materials which would be transported more easily.

This could majorly cut construction costs as only raw materials, such as carbon fiber, would need to be launched into orbit. The robots could then print larger structures in space. It could be that we soon see ‘kilometer-scale’ 3D printed solar arrays.

However, there is no information currently as to when the trial is likely to begin. It is hoped that, depending on funding, the 3D printing robots could be up and scuttling around within 10 to 20 years.

Source: Daily Mail