DCubed CEO and founder Thomas Sinn, left, and engineer Michael Kringer hold a model of the company's planned in-space manufacturing payload at the company’s booth during the 37th Annual Small Satellite Conference at Utah State University, August 9, 2023 in Logan, Utah. Kim Raff for Space News

LOGAN, Utah – DCubed, a German startup specializing in deployable satellite structures, plans to conduct an in-space manufacturing demonstration later this year.

While 3D printers manufacture parts on the International Space Station, small satellites have not yet proven the ability to manufacture structural components in free space.

“The first step is to go into space and show this is possible,” Thomas Sinn, DCubed CEO and founder, told SpaceNews in an interview at the Small Satellite Conference here.

Launching with D-Orbit

On Aug. 8, DCubed forged an agreement with Italian space logistics firm D-Orbit to launch the demonstration payload in the fourth quarter of 2023.

D-Orbit’s ION will maneuver to deploy cubesats in their desired locations.

“After this, we can operate the DCubed payload and record the video for them,” said Renato Panesi, D-Orbit founder and chief commercial officer.

Extrusion Manufacturing

On orbit, DCubed plans to use an extrusion process to manufacture a 30-centimeter-long truss structure.

“We will extrude a linear element, a tube, in one direction,” said DCubed engineer Michael Kringer. “We can also extrude other shapes.”

While the initial demonstration is relatively simple, its goal is to prove the efficacy of in-space manufacturing.

“We see the industry going into very high-power applications for small satellites,” Sinn said. “They want more power than they can get with conventional foldout solar arrays. Our idea is to make 5- to 10-kilowatt solar arrays with flexible photovoltaic blankets on a truss structure.”

In addition, in-space manufacturing has important applications for deep space exploration.

“We need to get independent of Earth-centered manufacturing,” Kringer said. “If we want to go to Mars, if we want to go to other bodies celestial bodies, we cannot bring every single component.”

D-Orbit is also interested in on-orbit manufacturing.

“This is a big milestone for us because in-space manufacturing is in our vision in the long term,” Panesi said.

Overall, Sinn said there is “an urgent need for large structures in orbit to
support an ecosystem providing services as diverse as internet from space, Internet of Things and Earth observation.”

Debra Werner is a correspondent for SpaceNews based in San Francisco. Debra earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University. She...