This project is solving the Space Cadets challenge. Description
Please read the full description of the project on our website and white paper, links below.
The Concept of SpaceMade
The project outlines a design approach and technological roadmap towards the long-term goal of self-sustaining, self-replicating space stations, colonies including orbital and deep space factories that require minimal external material and energy input as well as nearly no human intervention in order to function and expand themselves.
To validate our design principles we propose an early space fabrication hardware concept called SpaceMade. SpaceMade uses additive manufacturing (3D printing) to attain the highest rate of material reusability, manufacturing flexibility as well as independence of operation for a feasible near Earth orbit space dock.
The use case for the SpaceMade concept is an automated space station extension mechanism, where a service module containing a manufacturing unit can be launched into orbit, where it will proceed to constructing a full-fledged space station.
SpaceMade is an off-Earth manufacturing concept for automated and modular manufacturing of space scaffolding, outer shells for space modules, satellite casings and other such products, that can be fitted with the required “vitamin parts” to work and have their end-of-life management handled with minimal scrapping or deorbiting.
SpaceMade relies heavily on the idea of reusing any parts and materials through a system of end-of-life management and material recycling.
The physical core of SpaceMade is a module that consists of a recycler and a 3D printer. Components made of various materials can be input to the recycler that melts them to usable raw materials for the 3D printer. The 3D printer can be used to print station components from either new or recycled raw materials.
Where Can SpaceMade Be Used?
SpaceMade being a design concept, it can be used in orbit, on deep space flights or on the surface of solid celestial bodies. The functioning of the different technical solutions can be varied according to specific environmental conditions and raw materials available, and made to operate independent of human intervention until the space station or habitat is constructed. In general, environmental conditions in space include microgravity, extreme thermal variations, vacuum and radiation. Depending on the orbit, space debris, meteoroid impacts, atmospheric effects and electrostatic charging can cause additional issues.
The most likely environments for SpaceMade include Low Earth Orbit, deep space and the surfaces of Moon and Mars.
A Practical solution: How Does SpaceMade Work?
Although the design principles of SpaceMade can be adapted to any off-Earth environment, a practical solution to highlight the potential in the form of a self-extending, Earth-orbiting space station has been created.
This self-extending, automated space station uses off-Earth manufacturing of necessary parts as well recycling of worn, broken or obsolete parts as efficiently as possible. It can also adapt to unexpected situations because of the onboard manufacturing capability.
The solution consists of an automated process which recycles the materials, creates new parts and assembles them, as well as the outlines of the necessary technological solutions required to build the space station.
Manufacturing When new parts are needed, the elements are moved from the storage to the 3D printer which produces the parts. The printer may use liquid metals and plastics in creating the components. These components will typically include casings, outer shells and solar panels.
Distribution Completed pieces are removed from the printer by a robot on the roof. The pieces are served to autonomous robot skates that grab a hold of a piece and start transporting it via the rails towards the location where they are needed. Once a piece has been transported, the skate returns to the printer to wait for a new piece.
Assembly The assembly robot, RailDroid, assembles the new module piece by piece from the printed parts effectively creating more room for itself. The robot moves on rails autonomously, thus the name RailDroid, allowing it to roam free from the original module it arrived with. This is essential for the robot to be able to expand the space station or planetary habitat it is working on. The pieces are transported to the assembly robot by the robotic skates that collect the new pieces from the printer, allowing even more freedom and time effectiveness for the RailDroid.
The RailDroid knows the schematics of the modules it is building, and it’s knowledge is extendable by giving it new models via software. The common denominator between any module or design is the modular pieces of which they are constructed and interconnected. This allows the freedom of design without the need to change the manufacturing capabilities and provides necessary redundancies and bypass capabilities is case of a system failure effecting a single - or several - modules.
Disassembly & Material Recycling When parts approach the end of their life due to wear and tear, they are picked apart by the recycling robot, dismantled into elements in the black box melting oven and then sent off to storage. The dismantling involves all necessary steps from melting and chopping to cleaning the materials.
The Tech: What are the technical solutions in SpaceMade?
SpaceMade assembles new station or habitat modules piece by piece from interconnecting specialized parts. A robot takes care of the assembly of the base structure. The parts are provided from a fabrication lab and are transported to the assembly robot as a continuous stream.
Hull modules and space station structure Currently NASA, ESA and JAXA use a standardized rail framework for the arrangement of research racks within a module onboard the International Space Station. A similar structure can be used as a docking platform for the assembly bot, “Raildroid”. The RailDroid can independently move on these rails and use the pieces it is given for constructing the end-product.
A similar solution can be implemented into any space module or habitat design.
The hull of a module is constructed piece by piece of four levels of interconnecting and specialized layers. The most outer layer is the protective hull, implemented to prevent hull breaches in case of space debris and micrometeorite impacts. These pieces also include embedded railings for transporting goods outside of the module. Next up is the insulation layer that protects humans and machines from the radiation of space and Sun, and keeps the heat inside. After these protective layers the very essential life-support layer is added containing piping for oxygen, water and waste. Finally a utility layer that connects life-support systems, networking, electricity and other required utilities to a technology agnostic interface completes the hull. The utility layer being closest to the working and living spaces of a module is essentially a plug-and-play service for any connectable system such as a research rack, a shower or a life-support system.
All of the life-support and utility layer pieces are autonomous and interconnecting in a sense that for example a network of electricity can choose any existing path to reach its destination. This implementation creates a great amount of redundancy by design and not only allows us to let any piece fail without jeopardizing the safety of crew and the objectives of a mission, but lets us repair the problem by simply removing the broken piece and replacing it with a new one.
RailDroid construction bot The RailDroid can start by extending new rails out of an airlock and connecting them to the current structure. Once it’s moved outside, it can start building a module around it, effectively creating a new air tight room. Before the new room is completely air tight, a buffer room is required for allowing the transportation of new module pieces out of the airlock into the vacuum of space. The RailDroid can also start building a more complex grid of rails in order to create a space dock, or even maneuver around the modules on embedded rails in order to assemble solar panels, for example.
3D printing unit The printer may use liquid metals and plastics in creating the components. Using liquid elements in micro-gravity environments is difficult. To battle the possibility of the liquids somehow breaching the printer container, we need a printer solution that by it’s nature operates safely and effectively in this matter. We propose using such a printer nozzle that uses the surface tension of the liquid to its advantage. In this solution we would also have the table of the printer moving and catching the material from the nozzle instead of moving the nozzle itself.
Materials recycling and storage
Once a piece is retired or is broken, it is transported back to the original SpaceMade module. There it is fed to the recycling facilities and so turned back into usable printer elements. The pieces heading for recycling can be transported using the outside rails so that recycling doesn’t come in the way of other processes and everyday actions of the station. The recycling facilities include a smelting oven, part dismantling tools, element purification and other required functionalities.
Materials from the soil, like sand and stone, could be used for building rough unpressurised radiation shelters. Robots could explore the primeval Inca way of building without plaster. Finding right sized stones or maintaining stonecutter robots might become a problem while building.
Sifted sand could be made into bricks by solar-powered 3D-sintering. Rays of sunlight could be focused with fresnel lenses to produce sintering temperature. During the sintering time some lenses should warm up the 3D printer base producing near-melting point temperature. Bricks are easier for robots to handle than stones that always vary in size. However, the sand bricks are more brittle than stones and make only rough radiation shelter. By using the unnecessary parts like undercarriage or approach aids, the SpaceMade could expand itself and meet the more necessary needs after landing. Recycling the parts as components would allow effective use of materials and minimize the energy consumption.
However, not all the parts can be used as components. After disassembly, the composite parts should be sorted out and recycled as raw materials. Metals, plastics and ceramics would be separated from each other as the variety of under classes are sorted out. Materials would be grinded and pulverised for 3D-sintering or -printing. Producing method is selected based on materials melting point and the future purpose of use. Low melting point materials and high-quality products are favoured in printing and high melting point materials for sintering.
The MakeSpace solution is capable of creating solar panels for itself. This way it will remain self sustaining as it grows. The energy expended during the process of assembly/disassembly is retained as efficiently as possible.
License: Academic Free License 3.0 (AFL-3.0)
Source Code/Project URL: http://spacemade.fi/
SpaceMade White Paper - http://www.spacemade.fi/whitepaper.pdf
SpaceMade Video - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aXvvN7p3smE