Made in Space CEO Andrew Rush says that this can become a reality in about twenty years. The company just finished testing its autonomous construction platform Archinaut inside a space vacuum simulation chamber. Archinaut is designed to build antennas, solar arrays and spare parts on newly launched satellites, thus lowering costs for satellite manufacturers. Antennas and solar arrays are cumbersome; they must be stowed away during launch, and deployed once they reach space. However, they sometimes get stuck, and heavy stowage assemblies cost a lot to launch because of excess use of fuel
Made in Space also believes that the repair process needs to be transformed. Astronauts can’t usually reach the orbits where many satellites function. With big distances between satellites and their orbits, sending robots to repair would take a lot of fuel.
Archinaut uses innovative autonomous technology and "machine vision" with sensors and algorithms to monitor that everything is being build the correct way.
In 2015, Made in Space and its subcontracting partners Northrop Grumman Corp. and Oceaneering Space Systems received $20 million funding from NASA to develop their first technology of 3D printing and assembly of complex systems not requiring human presence.
Rush hopes to be able to use this money to lower risks thus making the technology usable for use to serve government and commercial missions.
In June 2017, the team performed a one-month vacuum chamber test at NASA’s Ames Research Center, 3D-printing objects in an environment that mimicked space. Made In Space-built 3D printers onboard the International Space Station, are now being tested to see if astronauts can make tools in space instead of waiting for a spacecraft to deliver them.
Rush believes that thanks to this technology satellites may become reusable, while able to reconfigure and repair themselves, remaining in orbit for longer.
Archinaut’s launch date has not yet been announced.
However, a Made in Space blog post reports the new testing has boosted its NASA-rated technology readiness to work in space.