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SpiderFab: On-orbit Construction Under Study

“SpiderFab” enables on-orbit fabrication of large spacecraft components such as antennas, solar panels, trusses, and other multifunctional structures. Artwork: TUI

In the future, automated on-orbit construction of very large structures and multifunctional space system components is possible, such as kilometer-scale antenna reflectors. Artwork: TUI

Introducing “SpiderFab™” technologies – a new development for in-space fabrication of spacecraft components.

The NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program has announced it has selected Tethers Unlimited, Inc. of Bothell, Washington for a Phase II contract to continue their pioneering work.

The $500,000 award assists Tethers Unlimited, Inc. (TUI) to pursue SpiderFab architecture, an idea that adapts additive manufacturing techniques, such as 3D printing and robotic assembly technologies.

SpiderFab employed in space would make possible space systems to fabricate and integrate large components such as antennas, solar arrays, sensor masts, and shrouds on-orbit.

Football-field sized antennas and telescopes

“On-orbit fabrication allows the material for these critical components to be launched in a very compact and durable form, such as spools of fiber or blocks of polymer, so they can fit into a smaller, less expensive launch vehicle.” said Rob Hoyt, TUI’s CEO and Chief Scientist in a press statement.

In parallel with the NIAC effort, TUI is working under a NASA Small Business Innovation Research contract to develop a “Trusselator” device that will fabricate truss structures to enable in-space construction of large solar arrays.

“The Trusselator is the key first step in implementing the SpiderFab architecture,” said Hoyt.

“Once we’ve demonstrated that it works,” Hoyt added, “we will be well on our way towards creating football-field sized antennas and telescopes to help search for Earth-like exoplanets and evidence of extraterrestrial life.”

By Leonard David

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