COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo.–A growing new space company this summer will demonstrate an in-space assembly and manufacturing platform it believes will enables autonomous manufacture and assembly of spacecraft systems on orbit.
Made in Space has been working on its Archinaut platform under a two-year, $19.1 million NASA contract, according to company CEO Andrew Rush. The NASA award is one of three Tipping Point Technology contracts awarded for capabilities including low size, weight and power (SWaP) instruments for remote sensing applications and small spacecraft attitude determination and control sensors and actuators.
Rush said Archinaut will demonstrate the ability to create extended structures like, for example, a 30 meter reflector for a very small satellite bus. Archinaut is capable of making larger reflectors in the range of 100 meters because it is not constrained by the challenges of launch or the physical constraints of a fairing.
Rush said the beauty of Archinaut is that it takes launch out of the design space.
“You’re no longer constraining your deployables and, ultimately, your space assets to the constraints of launch, like a high G, high shock, high vibration environment,” Rush told sister publication Defense Daily April 4 at the 33rd Space Symposium in the Broadmoor hotel and resort. “You say I’m going to design and deploy my asset for the operational environment.”
Another great aspect of Archinaut, Rush said, is that it is adaptable to changing needs on the ground. He said, for example, Archinaut can take extra feed stock or material and repair an asset that has been damaged from an off-nominal event like a natural or non-natural occurrence.
Rush said once Made in Space demonstrates Archinaut this summer, the company will integrate one of those in-space manufactured structures with prefabricated components to show that it can autonomously develop a complete product. Made in Space, he said, hopes to follow this up with flight demos.
“Manufacturing and assembling space assets on orbit, rather than on ground and ‘origami- unfolding’ them in space, completely changes the way you do satellites,” Rush said. “It’s clean sheet, if you want to completely leverage that. I think this tech has potential to impact every single satellite made in the future.”
Orbital ATK [OA] and Space Systems Loral (SSL) were also awarded Tipping Point Technology contracts. Orbital ATK said it wouldn’t be able to respond by press time April 4. SSL didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Northrop Grumman [NOC] is serving as a subcontractor to Made in Space for Archinaut, providing support in integration, testing and working with NASA. Northrop Grumman is contributing expertise in electronic interfaces and thermal control analysis. Made in Space is contributing expertise in microgravity manufacturing to the team.
Made in Space has previously completed some Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) work and is performing work for another service, though Rush wouldn’t say which. The DARPA project, he said, was a satellite servicing effort that could go on another spacecraft and inspect it, telling the company what the surface was made of, identify any issues and then actually generate a repair and additively-manufacture a fix.
Made is Space is also developing via solely internal investment an exotic optical fibre on the International Space Station (ISS). Rush said this fibre, called ZBLAN, has a transmission window that is three-times wider than silica optical fibre. He said it also has a signal loss that is 100x better than traditional optical fibre, which means Made in Space can make more powerful fibre lasers.
Rush said these more powerful fibre lasers will allow companies to transmit data one-hundred times further without having to re-boost the signal, which enables incredible response times. Rush said it also allows development of data centers that are much more powerful and quicker.
Made in Space secretly worked on this ZBLAN optical fibre for 18 months before announcing. Rush said the company has secured flights through ISS CASIS, is building hardware, and plans to launch it on a Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) NASA Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) mission this summer. Rush said Made in Space is lining up customers from the defense sector as well as the telecom and data center sectors, though he didn’t elaborate whom was interested.
To develop the fibre, Rush said Made in Space will first launch the raw material, a glass-rod like material, to ISS before “pulling” the fibre on station. It will then send the fibre back to earth via the same SpaceX Dragon capsule that delivered the raw material.
Rush believes the optical fibre will be paradigm shifting because it will be the first industrial use of space. He said industry, to date, has monetized space through data, by sending “ones and zeros” to and from earth via remote sensing. Rush said creating this optical fibre in space will take gravity out of the manufacturing equation, enabling industry to create impactful products.
Rush said Made in Space has 40 employees, up from 25 last year. He attributed the company’s rapid growth to having “boot-strapped” a solution that NASA found very attractive and also parlayed some small business work. Rush said Made in Space has a grand vision of being able to manufacture, on-demand, satellite assets in space.