Traditionally, space agencies have had to pack everything they may or may not need into a rocket, hope it doesn’t break, then launch it using enough fuel to pollute a small town. With Archinaut, products can be manufactured on orbit as they are needed, making space travel more cost-effective and fuel-efficient. “Robotic manufacturing assembly gives you not only the opportunity to build using raw materials on orbit; it also gives you the opportunity to fix or repair components that might be damaged over time,” Jordan said.
Beyond simply making current missions easier, the technology enables projects hitherto thought impossible. For example, it could build baseline telescopes that reach as long as 50 meters, well above what the present paradigm is capable of. Other materials can be processed in space to exhibit novel and even superior properties under conditions that can’t be duplicated back on Earth.
Archinaut One is only the first iteration of its kind. In the future, Jordan sees more advanced models being used to support even more ambitious projects such as permanent settlements on the Moon or Mars. “There are definitely lunar applications,” he said. “Archinaut technology could be adapted to support surface infrastructure.” And in that case, raw material from the Moon itself could potentially be used to build structures, obviating the need to transport metals or plastics from Earth.
The ability to construct and repair habitats, launch pads and other infrastructure on the lunar surface is integral to future Mars missions. NASA plans to send the first woman and next man to the Moon by 2024 as part of its Artemis program and establish a permanent human presence there within the decade, laying the foundation for a “lunar economy.” From there, bases could be used as a springboard to reach Mars.
The United States is not alone, however. China plans to send another probe to the Moon this year and establish a space station by 2022. In December, it successfully launched its Long March-5 rocket, nicknamed the “Fat Five,” one of the most powerful of its kind in the world. Although countries such as Russia, India and the United Arab Emirates are also pressing forward with their space programs, the Sino-American rivalry could resemble the Space Race of the 1960s, a time when geopolitical pressures resulted in rapid scientific breakthroughs while also bringing the world’s superpowers to the brink of nuclear war.
The Archinaut program will undoubtedly advantage one side in the new race, and Made In Space is clear about where its allegiance lies. “Any company or organization that would be considered an adversary to our domestic agencies without a doubt would not be countries we would be doing business with,” Jordan said. “When you talk about applications for defense, I think of building better antennas that can support any kind of defense priorities, or building more cost-effective satellites for imaging and surveillance.”
Made In Space was recently acquired by Redwire, a subsidiary of private equity firm AE Industrial Partners that is rolling up numerous small space companies. The Archinaut One satellite is slated to fly in 2022. After years of research and testing, NASA approved it for the demonstration flight last year. Once it enters orbit, Archinaut will manufacture two ten meter long solar arrays to power itself. The arrays will generate nearly five times the power currently available to such satellites. The success or failure of the mission will set the mood not just for the future of MIS but in-space assembly and manufacturing as an industry.