We’ve all heard about 3D printing and the promise it holds for enabling spaceflight. With a 3D printer in development for use replicating parts and enabling repairs on the International Space Station, it will soon be a space-proven technology. Of course, there is much more potential for the technology – building lunar bases, creating instant printed food, and much more. NASA is moving one of these applications forward with a $500,000 award to Tethers Unlimited Inc. (TUI) to develop much larger structures than have yet been attempted – structures larger than anything that has ever been placed in space. TUI is calling their on-orbit fabricator the Trusselator, and that isn’t enough to send you running, they will be putting it together using a technology they’ve named SpiderFab. As dezeen reports, TUI CEO and chief scientist Robert Hoyt says:

“This radically different approach to building space systems will enable us to create antennas and arrays that are tens-to-hundreds of  times larger than are possible now, providing higher power, higher bandwidth, higher resolution, and higher sensitivity for a wide range of space missions.”

The idea is to use compact materials that are easy to launch – such as spools of thread – to form large truss-based structures such as kilometer long solar arrays and antennas in space. By constructing these structures on-orbit, they can be made with much lower tensile strength requirements; afterall, the structures no longer need to survive the harsh vibrations of launch and deployment.

The Trusselator from Tethers Unlimited.

The Trusselator from Tethers Unlimited.

The technology sounds like an offshoot of science fiction, and fiction has indeed already explored the potential of such capability, including maintenance and repairs following the inevitable on-orbit collisions. Now to find out how to make it actually work…

Read more here.


About the author

Merryl Azriel

Merryl Azriel

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Having wandered into professional writing and editing after a decade in engineering, science, and management, Merryl now enjoys reintegrating the dichotomy by bringing space technology and policy within reach of an interested public. After three years as Space Safety Magazine’s Managing Editor, Merryl semi-retired to Visiting Contributor and manager of the campaign to bring the International Space Station collaboration to the attention of the Nobel Peace Prize committee. She keeps her pencil sharp as Proposal Manager for U.S. government contractor CSRA.