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Archinaut by Made In Space
The Archinaut system can use robotic arms to assemble large structures in space. (Made In Space Illustration)

Made In Space, best known for building the first 3-D printer for outer space, has laid out its plan for building large structures in orbit in two new videos.

Archinaut is a system of technologies to make large space structures that can stand alone or be attached to existing structures. The system follows instructions beamed up from Earth to turn raw materials into 3-D printed items for assembly.

The first video shows how Made In Space’s Archinaut Dilo assembly process can transform a satellite into a reflector dish, using a robotic arm attached to the satellite itself. First, the arm places and aligns folded-up panels. The arm uses 3-D printing technology to attach the panels, which are then unfolded to create the reflector.

Another video shows the Archinaut Ulisses process, which uses a 3-D printer to manufacture structural components from raw material in a satellite’s toolbox. When the parts are finished printing, multiple robotic arms assemble them into the desired structure.

Made In Space said the ability to manufacture and assemble in space reduces launch limitations, and takes on some of the tasks that traditionally have to be done by spacewalkers.

“Without the limitations of gravity, this type of lattice structure can be built to indefinite lengths,” the California-based company said in its YouTube video description.

Tethers Unlimited and its Firmamentum subsidiary are taking an interest in in-space manufacturing and construction as well.

Robert Hoyt, CEO and chief scientist for Tethers Unlimited, based in Bothell, Wash., said the company expects to have three experiments sent to space in the next three years.

“The first scheduled flight experiment is the ‘Refabricator’ recycling and 3-D printing payload that will go up to the ISS in 2018,” he told GeekWire.

The Refabricator is one of several devices built by Firmamentum with backing from NASA and the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Its purpose is to recycle plastic waste back into filament that 3-D printers can use to make new satellite parts and tools.

After the Refabricator, Hoyt says he expects the MakerSat and the Dragonfly experimental satellites to go into orbit in 2020. Those satellite experiments aim to demonstrate technologies for 3-D printing and assembling large structures in space.

Meanwhile, Archinaut is on a fast-track timeline as well. The team plans to begin testing the hardware in a thermal vacuum chamber as early as this summer.

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