Space Assembly

Space Systems Loral has signed an agreement with Firmamentum to build satellites on orbit:

Firmamentum Signs Contract with SSL for In-Space Manufacturing Demo

BOTHELL, WA., 5 October 2016 – Firmamentum, a division of Tethers Unlimited, Inc. (TUI), announced that it has signed a contract with Space Systems Loral (SSL), a leading provider of innovative satellites and spacecraft systems, to prepare a flight demonstration of in-space manufacture of a component on a communications satellite. Firmamentum’s in-space manufacturing hardware is intended to fly as part of SSL’s “Dragonfly” program, which will demonstrate in-space robotic assembly of geostationary (GEO) communications satellites, enabling dramatic improvements in GEO satellite performance and mission flexibility. The Dragonfly program is funded under NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate’s (STMD) Tipping Point initiative to work with industry to advance the goals for robotic and human exploration of the solar system through the development of critical space technologies.

Firmamentum’s demonstration will validate a technology for on-orbit additive manufacturing of carbon-fiber composite structures. This technology, called the “Trusselator™”, enables space systems to fabricate large, lightweight, and high-performance truss structures to support antennas, sensors, solar arrays, and other key components. Manufacturing the structure after the satellite has reached orbit allows these components to be significantly larger than if they had to be stowed within a rocket shroud. Increasing the size of these key elements of a satellite enables higher data throughput, higher resolution, higher sensitivity, and higher power than achievable by satellites manufactured entirely on the ground.

“The Dragonfly program is a tremendous opportunity for us to demonstrate the readiness of in-space manufacturing technologies to enable transformative improvements in the performance of communications satellites, and we are very thankful that SSL has selected us to team with in this endeavor,” said Dr. Rob Hoyt, Firmamentum’s CEO.

“The evolution of next generation communications satellites and space systems depends on dramatic advances in technology and manufacturing processes,” said Dr. Matteo Genna, Chief Technology Officer of SSL. “Firmamentum plays a key role on the Dragonfly team and enables us to demonstrate the importance of in-space manufacturing, which we expect will be a significant capability for future missions.”

This is the kind of thing that is going to make systems like SLS look increasingly ridiculous.

Of course, if the current storm predictions hold up, Hurricane Matthew may take care of the problem. The Cape is in the crosshairs, and the VAB wasn’t built to handle a Cat 4 storm.

4 thoughts on “Space Assembly”

  1. In theory, the idea is cool because we build satellites to survive orbit. The margin they end up with on orbit is essentially just waste, and it costs a lot to send that extra margin into space.

    The trick will be transforming this waste cost required to develop means to build and test/validate/correct what you assemble on orbit and trading it for the certainty of a ground based build/test.

    I’m not sure it will pencil, but good luck to SSL – I applaud their (belated) drive to innovation and disruption as they must have thought about these questions already.

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