A Spacecraft Is Going To Build Its Own Solar Panels In Space: Archinaut One

A Spacecraft Is Going To Build Its Own Solar Panels In Space: Archinaut One

As I’ve mentioned in several episodes now,
humanity is in a bit of a transition period, a time when it makes sense to launch material
up and out of Earth’s gravity well into orbit, and beyond. But it’s really expensive, costing up to
$10,000 per pound you want in orbit, and 10 times if you want it on the Moon. But over the coming decades, more and more
of our space-based infrastructure will be built in space, manufactured out of materials
that were mined in space. The only thing that’ll actually need to
leave the Earth’s clingy gravity well will be us, the humans, the tourists, wanting to
visit all that space infrastructure. Of course, in order to achieve that space
future, engineers and mission planners will need to design and construct the technology
that will make this possible. That means testing out new prototypes, technologies
and methodologies for mining and space-based manufacturing. This is an example of the kind of telecommunications
satellite that’s regularly launched into space. The size and shape of its solar panels are
dependant on the reality that Earth’s gravity… sucks. Any spacecraft built needs to be able to handle
the full gravity down here on Earth, throughout the testing phase. Then it needs to be able to handle the brutal
acceleration, shaking and other forces of launch. Once it reaches orbit, it needs to unfold
its solar panels into a configuration that can generate power for the spacecraft. As always, I just need to say the words, James
Webb Space Telescope, to put you into a state of panic and dread, imagining the complexity
and origami precision that needs to happen more than a million kilometers from Earth,
in a place that can’t be serviced. Now, take a look at this artist’s illustration
of a satellite whose solar panels were built entirely in orbit, never experiencing the
rigors of Earth gravity. They’re comically, hilariously large. And as it turns out, efficient and cost effective. Imagine the International Space Station with
solar panels that were three times longer, but still perfectly strong and stable in the
microgravity environment of low-Earth orbit. This is the technology that Made in Space’s
Archinaut One will be testing out as early as 2022, bringing us one step closer to that
space-based manufacturing that I keep going on about. In July, 2019, NASA announced that had awarded
$73.7 million dollars to Made In Space, a 3D manufacturing company based in Mountain
View, California. This contract will help fund the construction
and launch of the company’s Archinaut One spacecraft, which will then demonstrate the
manufacturing and assembly of spacecraft components in space. They’re going to build a spacecraft that’ll
assemble its own power system. In space. If all goes well, Archinaut One will head
off to space on board a Rocket Lab Electron rocket from New Zealand as early as 2022. Once it reaches orbit, the spacecraft will
construct two ten-meter solar arrays, enough to power an industry standard 200-kg satellite. The kind of satellite that serves as a secondary
payload on larger launches. Generally they’re underpowered, with only
a few hundred watts of power available to them. Archinaut One will 3D-print the support beams,
and then unfurl the solar panels on either side of the spacecraft. By manufacturing the entire array in space,
the smaller satellite will have the power capabilities of a much larger spacecraft – 5
times the power – able to power more science instruments, communication instruments, etc. This makes sense here in Earth orbit, but
it makes even more sense deeper into the Solar System, where the amount of solar power available
to a spacecraft drops away. NASA’s Juno spacecraft is currently visiting
Jupiter, the 4-tonne spacecraft has three 9-meter solar arrays containing 18,698 solar
cells. Here at Earth, they’re capable of generating
14 kilowatts of electricity. But out at the orbit of Jupiter, the solar
cells get just 1/25th amount of sunlight to work with. NASA has been investing into several technologies
which it calls “tipping points”. These are technologies which are too risky
or complicated for aerospace firms to profitably develop. But if NASA can reduce the risks, they could
benefit commercial space exploration. This was the second contact awarded to Made
in Space for the Archinaut program. The first contract, awarded back in 2016,
was for a ground-based test of Archinaut. It was put into Northrop Grumman’s thermal
vacuum testing environment, which can mimic the temperature extremes and low pressure
of the near-vacuum of space. Inside the chamber, Archinaut was able to
manufacture and assemble various structures. It demonstrated that it could assemble pre-fabricated
components like nodes and trusses completely autonomously, as well as various repair operations. With this test out of the way, the next stage
will be to test out the technology in space, with the launch of Archinaut One ideally by
2022. Made in Space has actually been developing
and testing various space-based manufacturing systems for several years now. In February, 2018, Made in Space used a 3D
printer to build a single truss that was 37.7 meters long. And in a minute we’ll talk about some of
their other projects and what the future holds, but first I’d like to thank: Joel Adams
Jason Michael Charette
Elliot Burack And the rest of our 807 patrons for their
generous support. They contribute so that you can see these
videos, and we can make them freely available to anyone who wants to learn about space. Join our community at patreon.com/universetoday
and get in on the action. In addition to the Archinaut program, NASA
has been working with Made in Space for several years now. The most famous of this partnership is the
Additive Manufacturing Facility (or AMF), currently on board the International Space
Station, which arrived in March 2016, providing an upgrade to the station’s previous printer. Over the last few years, this printer has
crafted dozens of objects in the microgravity environment of orbit out of polyethylene. But the AMF is able to print with different
materials such as metals and composites. The partnership with Made in Space allows
NASA to craft replacement parts, and repair broken pieces of the station in orbit. But it also allows Made in Space to test out
their more ambitious plans for full space-based manufacturing. In 2018, NASA awarded them a Phase 2 Small
Business Innovation Research award for their Vulcan manufacturing system. This is a space-based manufacturing system
that can work with 30 different feedstock materials, like aluminum, titanium or plastic
composites to print 3D items. Vulcan will also be able to subtract material,
machining parts down to their final shapes. And it’ll all be done robotically. The goal is to build high-strength, high-precision
polymer and metallic components in orbit to the same level of quality as the stuff you
can buy down here on Earth. Made in Space is also testing out the technology
to manufacture optical fibers in space. These fibers transmit a tremendous amount
of data, but the signal needs to be boosted across longer transmission distances. There’s a special kind of crystal called
ZBLAN which could have a tenth or even a hundredth the signal loss of traditional fibers, but
it’s hard to manufacture in Earth-gravity. A recent experiment delivered to the International
Space Station will manufacture these ZBLAN fibers in space, hopefully producing up to
50 km at a time. As launch costs are reduced, it might even
make economical sense to manufacture fiber optic cables in space and then bring them
back to Earth. But it also makes a lot of sense to keep them
in space, to make more sophisticated satellite hardware that’s never known Earth-gravity. Made in Space is also working on technology
that will recycle polyethylene back into new 3D printed items. When it’s so expensive to fly cargo into
orbit, it makes recycle what you’ve already sent to space, and save it from getting dumped
overboard to burn up in orbit. These are all just pieces of a much larger
technology strategy that Made in Space is working towards – the goal of a full space-based
manufacturing and assembly system. In the future, satellites, telescopes and
other space-based hardware will be designed down here on Earth. Then the raw materials will be launched to
space with an Archinaut manufacturing system. Archinaut will manufacture all the component
parts using its 3D printer, and then they’ll be assembled together in space. Made in Space has two flavors of Archinaut
they’re proposing right now. The Dilo system looks like an octagonal canister
surrounded by solar panels with a robotic arm poking out the top. Inside the canister are all the raw materials
for a space-based communications antenna. The arm takes folded reflector panels and
then assembles them. It uses 3D printing to attach the panels,
and then they’re unfolded into a communications dish. The spacecraft then uses a 3D printer to manufacture
and extrude a communications boom from its center. The more advanced version is called Ulysses. It’s a version of Archinaut with three robotic
arms surrounding a 3D printer. The spacecraft manufactures various trusses
and nodes and then uses its arms to assemble them into larger and larger structures. With this technology, they’re really only
limited by the amount of raw materials the spacecraft has to work with. It could build space telescopes dozens or
even hundreds of meters across. The pieces are coming together for true space-based
manufacturing and assembly. As early as 2022, we’ll see a spacecraft
assemble its own solar panels in space, creating a structure that never needs to experience
Earth gravity. And in the coming years, we’ll see larger
and larger spacecraft built almost entirely in orbit. And eventually, I hope, they’ll be made
out of material harvested from the Solar System. Some day, we’ll see the launch of the last
cargo rocket. The last time we bothered carrying anything
out of Earth’s massive gravity well and out into space. From then on, it’ll only be tourists. What do you think? When do you think we’re going to get to
that future of space-based manufacturing and assembly? Let me know your thoughts in the comments. Once a week I gather up all my space news
into a single email newsletter and send it out. It’s got pictures, brief highlights about
the story, and links so you can find out more. Go to universetoday.com/newsletter to sign
up. Did you know that all of my videos are also
available in a handy audio podcast format, so you can have the latest episodes as well
as special bonus material like interviews with me show up right on your audio device. Go to universetoday.com/audio, or search for
Universe Today on iTunes, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. I’ll put a link in the shownotes. And finally, here’s a playlist.


100 thoughts on “A Spacecraft Is Going To Build Its Own Solar Panels In Space: Archinaut One”

  • Sorry for the re-upload, there was some kind of strange distortion on the bottom of the screen. Hopefully it's fixed now.

  • I hope you’ve read “Delta-V”. First time manned asteroid mining ship overcomes unanticipated problems at job site and using minerals mined, builds spaceships to take cargo back to Earth. One of the best science explanations of the challenges I’ve read in some time.

  • I don't understand why you think this is a good idea. We can't do manufaturing here on Earth reliably so what kind of magic is going to make it work perfectly in space? Or at least good enough we don't need an QC and Maintenance department.
    Should we do this…. Of course. There is a tiny subset of things we will have to go to the extra trouble and expance to do it this way. Could also be good for small simple parts;

  • I don't even want to HEAR About the Webb telescope until it's out and running. Don't want to bite my nails over a safe launch, deployment, operation…

  • Schpeet Schpoot says:

    Ultimately, what would really be cool would be orbital mobile recycling plants that go after and collect all of that orbiting space junk and turn it into raw materials for use by other space based assemblers.

  • Kevin Kennelly says:

    1:41 "origami precision"
    I describe the JWST deployment as 'more moving parts than an amusement park'.
    I'll add origami precision.

  • Upcycle Electronics says:

    Alright, that's cool, but can it make paper clips? I've heard that's the real milestone over on SFIA. Once they can autonomously make paperclips in space, all our problems are solved.

  • custard the pipecat says:

    watched it again i thought the distortion was from a time dilation coming from gravity generators i left on while i was at work. : 0

  • I suspect it will be a long time before we are sourcing most raw materials from space – love to be wrong about that, but seems optimistic to think it will happen in the next twenty to fifty years. IMO will be more than fifty years before that is the case. Still being able to manufacture in space is itself a huge hurdle and can bring dramatic improvements to nearly every space endeavor.

  • Nick Nathanson says:

    Hi, Fraser. It seems to me that people somehow unconsciously prefer videos where they can see a real person, not just graphics. That's why many people support video games streamers on Patreon, – those streamers IMO do nothing and just showing game and their reaction on it. But fans always see streamer's face which creates some emotional connection, fans treat them like friends and want to support them with money. So that's why I think you may consider coming back with your face in these videos 😉 not only QA. You may get more Patreons. Also Veritasium had great explanation of Youtube's algoritms and all this clickbait thing in the video "My Video Went Viral. Here's Why".

    Your videos definetly deserve more views and patreons.

  • 101perspective says:

    I wonder if you could technically build a Dyson's Sphere with these robots… or at least the next generation of them that can make the panels also?

  • Great video, as always! Question: Does the Moon has sources of silcon? How hard would if be to craft an autofactory that makes silcon wafers for solar cells and even electronics in cislunar space and beyond? Is this far off IssacArthurTech or something we could in this next 20-30 years?

  • Matthias Liszt says:

    as for the ISS , drag would be an issue if the solar panels would be three times longer etc. … there is still a lot of drag in 400 km above ground

  • 7:45 : took me a moment to understand what I was looking at. Holy f***! Better make sure you don't drop something…

  • Socks With Sandals says:

    This missing link technology will be needed for a couple of decades until a Moonbase can develop an engineering sector.

  • This is so awesome and yes, will be cool when we can get the raw materials from space instead of launching from (flat) Earth. 😂🤙

  • xXNightAngelXx01 says:

    If only someone could make sci-fi game on self building solar panels in additional to space mining, transport and satellite manufacturing. I think some few collective players may find a very creative design/methods for scientists to consider for actual practical use.

  • I want space tourism to be a thing that is affordable for the average person, even if it's something you'd had to save up for, comparable to maybe a week-long vacation, during my lifetime. in 20-30 years when I'm closing in on retirement, I would love to go to space before my body becomes to old and fragile to handle the ordeal.

    I know it's possible today, but it's soo expensive and exclusive, it's not something that I expect I'll be able to afford, but as prices drops, I might be able to go later in the my lifetime before it's too late.

  • This is not really about the cost of mass to per-se orbit, right ?
    Like UPS shipping, it is more about volume – ultra dense feed-stocks can effectively take thousands of G but can then be printed as cotton candy once in orbit. The costs of mass to orbit is the same, but bigger structures can be shipped to orbit.
    Good stuff !

  • VirtualVisitor999 says:

    Cosmic radiation prevents human from going beyond the moon. There is no solution likely. Earth and Moon, and even then must be deep underground on the Moon.

  • Christiaan Corthals says:

    At 7:26 you mention the Made In Space VULCAN system can do "subtractive manufacturing" : this subtractive fabrication involves cutting away from a solid block of material, thus removal of undesired materials through cutting, drilling or milling. If this is done in space, I wonder how they would deal with the residual material: surely it would need to be collected and prevented from floating around. I thought that 3D printing was a big advantage: just printing or putting material where it is needed, avoiding waste and residual material.

  • Stoytcho Stoev says:

    If we survive at all, maybe that future will come after 100-150 years. A major nature or other kind of disaster is very likely to happen in 30 to 50 years or sooner. There is just to much hype and illogical thinking boosted by dreamers on the Internet. Sadly, I think it will be the same scenario as it was after the Moon landings. People thought, that 20 years after The Moon people will be on Mars…

  • Harambe's Ghost says:

    I think it will be a while yet before we have space based industry. Material still has to be mined and transported to where it will be refined, then moved to the manufacturing site. But this is a good start.

  • Yakov Kosharovsky says:

    Hi Fraser.
    I am not optimistic..
    somewhere in the future, some militant will send a robotic seed to some asteroid, the seed will create rocket engines, reshape the asteroid for better atmosphere reentry capability, a cabooom to city/state/continent. depends on how much patience the militant had.
    I think that space production or space traveling will be forbiden for private people due to security reasons.
    At least untill we will have some sort of unified government that will deploy space based weapons arround Earth first..

    I also wonder, what if tomorrow north korea will declare that they abandon their ways and decided to be a peacfull state. and for that reason they are launching this sort of ceed to astreroid, will the US let them launch?

  • The Dying Atheist says:

    I have never been so jealous or fearful of the future! I wish I were 5 again. When I was 5, I watched the launch Gemini 3, March 23, 1965. Space exploration was so much a part of my life. I vividly remember Apollo and in summer school, 1969 I watch humans put a foot on the moon. I have had a fantastic experience! I wish the same for today's five-year-old kids.

  • I was talking to one of my fellow inventor friends about some of my current projects and they said "If your not inventing for space, you're already behind"

  • The one thing we need to land are heat shields. Why can't we orbit a planet like Mars a bunch of times to slow down the velocity slowly using the Planets atmosphere. That way we can save weight by not using a Heat Shield.

  • I have a question. I seem to remember NASA running competitions to find different methods to use regolith as building materials on the moon or mars, and I was just wondering if there are any plans in the works to make use of any of the methods they have so far had submitted?

    Thanks for the great work. I really love the show!

  • [Future story] After the JWST’s eyewateringly costly failure, NASA undertook to test every complex deep space craft in LEO, within range of the ISS, where launch-induced or manufacturing failures could be identified and rectified before the gentler deep space transfer of a proven spacecraft.

  • I think the last thing to be cargo lifted from Earth will be the control electronics for satellites. Chip fabs are way more complicated than building the structures etc.

  • Will we stop sending material to space? Quick answer: No. Long answer: Not for the foreseeable future.
    Will 3D printing manufacturing reduce the complexity of launch & allow for more complex mission profile? Totally!

  • darrick steele says:

    The computing age, the information age, space age all are amazing and exciting and inspiring times to be alive but if I had the power to choose the next renaissance it would certainly be maximum efficiency for the next twenty years that I'd bless the people of Earth with for sure.

  • Nicholas Hernandez says:

    I would say that it is going to take about 10 years before anything being manufactured in space will start to become commonplace. More like the beginning of what is to come and hopefully anything that can start our progress on asteroid mining will start to happen at the same time. It will just take a little longer.

  • Dadson worldwide says:

    why dont we just target the right astroid with the right naterials then tunnel it out and instal propultion. This would last forever and we could move it to each planet or moons orbit that we wish to explore.
    Seems like a tunnel boring machine woukd be the real universal tool to have in space. use it to build colonys in the rock that protects from radiation while also farming the minerals to use to costruct the interior.

  • It would be nice if someday they could collect all the space junk that threatens satellites and use that to manufacture new things in space.

  • therealnightwriter says:

    OMG a stupid fanboy, the Germans provably had anti-gravity in the 1920's, this is all a pile of crap. Don't be so stupid as to believe the lies that you are told.

  • Fraser, I just want to say thank you for uploading so much great content lately. Truly astonishing work by you and your team. Hats off from Amsterdam!

  • This could create a customer for space mining. Having companies like tethers unlimited, orbital assembly, and made in space receive their raw materials from lunar or asteroid mines would make space a whole lot cheaper once infastructure is in place and this truely could be the needed "tipping point" for such to come to be.

  • Wow. Your presentation here makes it seem like manufacturing-in-space is very near. I felt myself getting excited and also trepidatious. Such a huge step for humanity, but also maybe the first step to the 'elites' leaving us all behind (physically, socially, economically, etc).

  • Once they get their machine to duplicate itself, we are in business. We will be able to multiply these machines exponentially and create vast structures like maybe a Dyson Sphere in a short time.

  • I wonder which material they're gonna 3d print those support structures out of. They have to be able to withstand space temperature swings and the heat of unmitigated sunlight.

  • It's progress, but it's sure not what I was hoping for when I clicked on this headline. I was looking forward to a piece about a spacecraft capable of making the solar cells themselves, and this is just about making the struts and trusses they drape over. Still, it's real. Those trusses and struts are a major and needless weight penallty if they come from down here.

    Also, wtf NOTHING BUT TOURISTS, EVER AGAIN??? That would be a heartbreaking failure. More than that, it would be an absolute disaster!! That's squandering humanity's chances at becoming a galaxy-spanning culture! You envision a vastly different future than I. Try thinking of it as a real place where real people live, with its own cities and population working with all that infrastructure. Tourism may be significant in the early years, but before too long I hope those hotels will be filled with business travelers who have to be there for the same kind of completely mundane reasons why they sometimes have to go to Detroit, and surrounded by the homes of people who live and work there because their parents did, many of whom are starting their own businesses making their own products.

  • Flip Channel B says:

    Finally! It's awesome to finally hear conversation about building in space beyond a fantasized endeavor. It can be a common reality a whole lot sooner than that if championed as a species (Earth goal) instead of competing foreign factions doing their own thing. After all, if some day humanity discovers other sentient life, they will only see humans (species) and not individual arrogant countries.

  • Unfortunately I think that I won't be alive I am 38 and I'd love to go to Mars or be around long enough to see warp drive achieved or to be able to live in our galaxy for just a couple of years of my life 🤔 I don't believe in Aliens but I do believe that things live out there but are very very small just because of what we have found on earth that shouldn't be able to live where they do but do and if something else is out there I would love to be alive to know about it

  • Zachary Wilson says:

    It will be a very long time before, if ever, there will be a "last time" we carry anything but passengers and tourists via large chemical rockets out of LEO. Although building infrastructure in space does appear feasible, we have yet to find food or animals on any other world. Food will have to be provided somewhere. We may be able to have telerobotics or AI maintain hydroponic greenhouses to grow plants (also plant-based/cell-culture meat substitutes have made great strides recently), but that still leaves the fact that we may not be able to collect a sufficient amount of hydrogen/oxygen molecules in space to pass through a Sabatier/Bosch chemical reaction process to obtain enough water for those actions, in addition to water needed to drink/bathe/et cetera for many people to thrive in space. Don't get me wrong, I commend Made in Space for their developments and look forward to progress made in these fields, I just feel the sentiment share at the end of this video is a bit too optimistic. Love your stuff, Frasier!

  • That future is a very, very long way off. Yes the fabrication part is near-at-hand, but it is the raw materials part that is the really, really problematic bit. Until we can routinely and easily go to asteroids the mining part to produce the raw materials in space is a pipe dream. Since we are nowhere near being able to routinely and easily go to asteroids at the required level that is the roadblock.

  • I would love to see a video on the current status of efforts to produce metals from space objects such as asteroids or regolith. This is the other side of space manufacturing and perhaps the harder part as well.

  • the weight and volume will be the same. it will just allow us to package in in a small box rather than having to fold everything up.

  • TheEventHorizon says:

    The beginnings of space industry… let’s hope Orbital Assembly gets their spaceport up and we colonize the solar system before the seemingly inevitable climate change disaster that might wipe out humanity in a few hundred years

  • If we expect much human settlement off Earth, even after we no longer need to send heavy manufactures to space, there is likely to be a period when we still have to send biological materials (other than just humans): cell lines, microorganisms for soil amendments, bacterial mining and manufacture in space, plants for food, O2 & carbon cycling, animals, etc.

  • collect the space junk for material to build whatever you need manufactured. Dismantle dead satellites for components.

  • When I see these You Tube videos of cars being entirely built by robots on an assembly line; I don't think we are too far off.

  • Fraser…. I gather that you collect comments and questions on any threads and posts you make. I subscribe, so let’s see if that’s true. I don’t know how you manage it, but hats off to you. I love the fact that you answer both simple questions and complicated ones. I remember one question recently about how the sun shines on the moon and you answered without the bat of an eyelid about how to figure out where the sun is based on the shape of the crescent. You didn’t put the questioner down, but you answered them with every seriousness as you would for anyone else. Thank you for treating everyone with the same respect, no matter how knowledgeable they are or how new they are to astronomy.

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