With many exciting developments in the intersecting industries of additive manufacturing and space exploration this past week, we were hardly surprised to hear that Made In Space, a pioneer of 3D printing in space, also had some news. The company, responsible for sending the first 3D printer (the AMF system) into space in 2016, is now developing power systems for small satellites which will provide them with large satellite power and capability.
The company says that giving small satellites bigger power capacities could make it more cost effective to send power intensive payloads into space. In more specific terms, while small satellites are currently limited to about 1 kilowatt of power or less, the new power system being developed by Made In Space could provide up to 5 kilowatts or solar power to small satellites. The power system, the company adds, is enabled by its Archinaut in-space additive manufacturing and assembly technology.
“Despite advances in avionics and payload packaging, small satellites provide less capability per kilogram than their larger brethren because small satellites are power constrained,” elaborated Andrew Rush, CEO of Made in Space. “This often prevents power intensive science, remote sensing, communications, and defense payloads which otherwise fit. Deploying these power intensive payloads on small satellites is game changing because these platforms costs an order of magnitude less to build and launch and can be fielded much more rapidly than 1,000+ kilogram satellites.”
Made In Space’s Archinaut system, for its part, is currently being developed through a NASA contract and consists of an in-space 3D printer and robotic arms that can build up large structures in space.
The Archinaut system could therefore be used to equip small satellites with the large satellite solar arrays to increase their power. The Archinaut’s power system is capable of providing up to five times more power to small satellites by using raw materials and tightly packed solar arrays instead of folded booms and complex deployment mechanisms.
“Due to the volume and mass efficiencies of manufacturing the structure, a small satellite such as a 150 kg ESPA-class satellite could be deployed with 5 kW of power,” said Rush. “Today, that kind of power is only available on 1,000+ kg satellite buses launching on rockets costing tens of millions of dollars.”
Being able to outfit small satellites with large satellite power could provide them with the ability to handle similar applications as well. In other words, customers such as commercial companies looking to get to market faster, defense groups seeking to upgrade their assets faster or scientists needing to deploy mapping systems for the Moon could benefit from the lower building costs, launch costs and faster development time of small satellites.
Made In Space adds that the Archinaut power system could also be used as a standalone system built into satellite buses to increase the efficiency of large satellites. Preliminary studies, for instance, have shown that a 500-kW Archinaut power system using modern solar cell blankets requires 2,000 m² of solar array surface area and has a system mass of 1,000 kg, which is more than an order of magnitude less mass than systems currently in orbit.
“Because the Archinaut system uses in space manufacturing and robotics, the same core technology will be useful for a range of spacecraft missions,” added Rush. “It can also be used for a range of impactful applications beyond power systems, such as creating large apertures or spacing out sensors from one another.”