NASA is expanding its efforts to bring 3D printing to space. The agency has given Made In Space a $73.3 million contract to demonstrate the ability to 3D-print spacecraft parts in orbit using Archinaut One (shown above), a robotic manufacturing ship due to launch in 2022 or later.
The vessel will fly aboard a Rocket Lab Electron rocket and 3D-print two 32-foot beams on each side, with each unfurling two solar arrays.
The completed arrays could produce up to five times more power than the solar panels you normally find on spacecraft this size, NASA said.
Made In Space has already 3D-printed beams in 2017, when it used a NASA location that simulated some of the conditions of space. This, of course, is another challenge entirely — it’s introducing microgravity along with a lack of human support if things go wrong.