A new spacecraft called Archinaut has been revealed by US-based company 'Made in Space', promising to revolutionize space construction.
The Archinaut spacecraft effectively functions as a large 3D printer able to create large truss structures in a zero-gravity environment.
Designed in collaboration with Northrop-Grumman and Oceaneering Space Systems, the Archinaut could theoretically reduce the cost of space manufacturing and construction by a significant margin.
Recognizing the potential of the spacecraft, Nasa has also provided funding for the project, as part of its Tipping Point Technologies program.
Existing structures launched into orbit need to be incredibly strong and high performance due to the stresses they are exposed to during launch, and their long operational lifetimes.
By building in orbit, Archinaut can build much more lightweight and more fragile structures that do not need to withstand gravity or high G-forces.
The craft itself works by slowly extruding a soft plastic into a shape, which once completed is then grabbed by one of several robotic arms.
After the next piece is printed, the robotic arms then fix the parts together to begin the construction of a larger structure.
Through the use of a large number of 3D-printed struts and joiner pieces, the Archinaut can assemble huge trusses, resembling in many ways how a spider would spin a web.
The only constraint on the size of the structure is how much raw printing material Archinaut can carry before it is topped up or replaced by another.
In promotional material released by Made in Space, the Archinaut can be seen constructing satellite antennas. space station trusses and huge communication dishes, all using the same manufacturing/assembly approach.
The actual viability of 3D printing in zero-gravity has already been demonstrated with an earlier printer built by Made in Space which has been in use on the International Space Station (ISS) since 2014. There it has produced a number of functional and ornamental parts and has provided itself a valuable tool for the ISS crew.
According to reporting by TechCrunch, Made in Space has already built one Archinaut spacecraft for a commercial customer, however, which specific company this is has not yet been publically announced.