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In-space construction
An artist’s conception shows a future satellite building scaffolding from carbon-fiber composites. (Credit: Tethers Unlimited)

A division of Tethers Unlimited Inc., a space technology company based in Bothell, Wash., says it has signed a contract with a big-name spacecraft provider to demonstrate how future satellites could build their own frameworks in space.

The deal calls for Tethers Unlimited’s business division, known as Firmamentum, to fly its manufacturing hardware on a telecommunications satellite as part of Space Systems Loral’s Dragonfly program. Space Systems Loral is one of the world’s leading builders of satellites and spacecraft systems.

Firmamentum is working on a technology known as the “Trusselator,” which is designed to fabricate large, lightweight truss structures out of carbon-fiber composites. Such structures could help support antennas, sensors, solar arrays and other components.


The benefit is that the structures could be built to the required specifications in space, rather than having to be launched as payload in their finished shape.

Dragonfly is being funded by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate as part of the space agency’s Tipping Point initiative.

“The Dragonfly program is a tremendous opportunity for us to demonstrate the readiness of in-space manufacturing technologies to enable transformative improvements in the performance of communications satellites, and we are very thankful that SSL has selected us to team with in this endeavor,” Rob Hoyt, Firmamentum’s CEO, said in a news release.

Firmamentum didn’t provide specifics about the value of the contract or the time frame for the in-space demonstration. However, Space Systems Loral’s executive vice president of engineering and operations, Paul Estey, told Satellite Today in July that the project was part of the company’s long-term vision for satellite platforms.


“This is in the early stages — not something that will happen in the next five years, likely, but it is a very exciting area of engineering endeavor for us,” Estey said.

Firmamentum is also working with Space Systems Loral as well as NanoRacks and Vulcan Aerospace on an on-orbit construction project for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, a.k.a. DARPA.

Tethers Unlimited and its Firmamentum division are developing a long list of technologies for NASA and other government entities, ranging from small-scale, high-bandwidth communication antennas to 3-D printer/recyclers and water-fueled mini-thrusters.

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