Archinaut's steps into the future
One familiar, but not yet achieved popular cinematic theme - a massive orbital station visible thousands of kilometers above Earth’s uppermost atmospheric layer - is now turning more and more into a phase when it not only remains a true opportunity for humanity, but also appears to be a “realistic” goal on the long sci-fi “to do” list. Made In Space’s NASA-backed Archinaut project that is discovering the ways of large-scale outer-space constructing with the use of 3D printing not only salutes filmmakers with its Ridley Scott’s “Alien”-esque promo picture, but it also promises fascinating outcomes. It is practical and awesome alike, which adds to its overall creative appeal – like a dream in the making. As such, 3D printing/additive technology has already been used on-screen and in fiction throughout the last century, with “Elysium”s orbital additive facial reconstruction scene being one recent (but rather exaggerated) example of its imagined use. Whether or not this representation has been accurate, the technology developed by MIS at its Californian office now proves the idea of 3D printing in space right, and any “realistic” cinematic picture of our cosmic future might need to consider it.
According to NASA, “Archinaut project conduct(ed) first large-scale additive manufacturing build in space-like environment” in August 2017. The project, today in a semi-advanced stage of development, aims at a release into space a 3printer built specifically to operate in harsh cosmic environment to print and assemble there parts that could become a basis for future construction of large orbital objects. As Eric Joyce, Archinaut project manager, told NASA, the performed test “advances the technology (…) and gives us real confidence the hardware will do the job in space that it does here on the ground, enabling us to print sturdy, reliable structures of unlimited size. It was a history-making test." Items 3D-printed entirely beyond Earth have already been made, including a Made In Space brand plate and a wrench, which is the first object created with a MIS’s printer equipped on the International Space Station whose data had been sent independently from the ground and not preprogrammed – a solution crucial to the realization of tasks outlined by NASA.
Some of the created objects are now planned for testing back at NASA headquarters, where their structural and physical characteristics will be measured and compared to their counterpart domestic prints to see what 3D printing in space is capable of. Step by step, we might be getting to the point where our pictures of large structures being developed in space are finally realized. We grasped the process, which until a new, groundbreaking discovery is made, sets the tone for the whole space industry. Launching in 2018, Archinaut might become the answer to cost-reduction of space travel and resupply while being able to produce and set entirely new objects in open space. The subordinate Archinaut’s ULYSSES program seems to be the first comprehensive attempt to show us the know-how, not the distanced effect as shown in fiction. Leaving the question of in-space filament refilling aside and other concerns that may arise, ULYSSES is supposed to operate independently and on-demand – which apparently is we need at this moment in history. Currently, it is expected to build bigger telescopes, but who knows if the completion of the program’s current goal might one day help us develop staggering extraterrestrial habitats we so keenly await.