Made In Space highlights defense applications for manufacturing and robotic assembly technology

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SAN FRANCISCO – Made In Space, a company well known for its work with NASA, is underscoring national security applications for in-space robotic assembly and additive manufacturing technologies at the annual Small Satellite Conference.

Made In Space operates 3D printers on the International Space Station. The Florida company acquired in June by Redwire also remains on track to launch in 2022 Archinaut One, a small satellite designed to additively manufacture and robotically integrate a large solar array.

All these technologies can be repurposed and recombined for national security missions, Juli Lawless, Made In Space director of business development for national defense, told SpaceNews.

“We are not bound to the constraints of launch,” Lawless said. “Being able to build in space means you can have large apertures and huge antennas that you never could have fit into a small satellite before.”

Made In Space is exploring those concepts under government contracts including a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency program to deconstruct and reassemble launch hardware. The idea is to take an Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle Secondary Payload Adapter that normally would be discarded in orbit, robotically unfurl it and create a structural backplane for a phased array radar.

“We’ve explored several different technologies with DARPA and with commercial partners to find defense customers who might be interested in this concept to serve missions such as being able to send tactical communications and video down to the warfighter,” Lawless said. The technology also has applications for tracking moving targets in space and on the ground, she added.

Made In Space also has a NASA contract to explore the idea of additively manufacturing in orbit a long boom for infrared space interferometry.

“We’ve been exploring lots of different operations with that technology, whether it be an intelligence mission or supporting this new push for cis-lunar space domain awareness,” Lawless said.

Made In Space expects the U.S. Space Force and U.S. Space Command to be receptive to its in-space robotic assembly and additive manufacturing proposals.

“State of the Space Industrial Base 2020: A Time for Action to Sustain U.S. Economic and Military Leadership in Space,” a report released July 28, warns at the outset it does “not necessarily reflect the official policy or position” of U.S. government agencies. Still the report, which summarizes the views of 120 people from the Defense Innovation Unit, the Air Force Research Laboratory, the Space Force and NewSpace New Mexico who attended a May conference and workshop, emphasizes the need for space resource extraction and in-space manufacturing, saying the combination provides “great power advantage in the wealth they can generate and in the advantage they can provide and in the range, mass, flexibility and cost of a nation’s space capabilities available to exert its power and influence in space and beyond.”

Similarly, a U.S. Air Force document released in 2019 prior to the creation of the Space force, “Strengthening USAF Science and Technology for 2030 and Beyond,” calls agile digital and additive manufacturing a “technological opportunity.”

Made In Space officials plan to discuss the current state of in-space manufacturing, future applications and opportunities for collaboration during a Small Satellite conference workshop Aug. 4 at 9 am Eastern time.