NASA turns to 3-D printing for self-building spacecraft

Using 3-D printers to build spacecraft parts in orbit would offer an easier way to construct huge space antennas or space telescope components 10 or 20 times larger than today's counterparts without having to fold them up and squeeze them inside a rocket.
Using 3-D printers to build spacecraft parts in orbit would offer an easier way to construct huge space antennas or space telescope components 10 or 20 times larger than today's counterparts without having to fold them up and squeeze them inside a rocket.

[dropcap]S[/dropcap]pacecraft could build themselves or huge space telescopes someday by scavenging materials from space junk or asteroids. That wild vision stems from a modest proposal to use 3-D printing technology aboard a tiny satellite to create a much larger structure in space.

The “SpiderFab” project received $100,000 from NASA‘s Innovative Advanced Concepts program to hammer out a design and figure out whether spacecraft self-construction makes business sense. Practical planning and additional funding could lead to the launch of a 3-D-printing test mission within several years.

“We’d like someday to be able to have a spacecraft create itself entirely from scratch, but realistically that’s quite a ways out,” said Robert Hoyt, CEO and chief scientist of Tethers Unlimited Inc. “That’s still science fiction.”

Using 3-D printers to build spacecraft parts in orbit would offer an easier way to construct huge space antennas or space telescope components 10 or 20 times larger than today’s counterparts without having to fold them up and squeeze them inside a rocket — missions could simply launch with the 3-D printers and raw materials.

The idea could also cut space mission costs and boost mission capabilities by making much lighter and larger structures in space, Hoyt explained. That’s because space manufacturing avoids the need t