Sunday, November 2, 2014

SpiderFab: Architecture for On-Orbit Construction of Kilometer-Scale Apertures

Although SpiderFab is reminiscent of a creepy Halloween spider, this space technology could radically change the way we build and deploy spacecraft.

The SpiderFab process for on-orbit construction of large, lightweight structures could dramatically reduce the launch mass and stowed volume of NASA systems for astronomy, Earth-observation, and other missions requiring large apertures or large baselines, enabling them to be deployed using much smaller, less expensive launch vehicles and thereby reducing total life cycle cost for these missions.

This Phase II NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC)-funded research is developing and demonstrating methods to address the key risk of fabrication in the thermal and vacuum environment of space.

Currently, satellites are built and tested on the ground, and then launched into space aboard rockets.

As a result, a large fraction of the engineering cost and launch mass of space systems is required exclusively to ensure the system survives the launch environment.

This is particularly true for systems with physically large components, such as antennas, booms, and panels, which must be designed to stow for launch and then deploy reliably on orbit.

Furthermore, the performance of these systems are largely determined by the sizes of their apertures, solar panels, and other key components, and the sizes of these structures are limited by the requirement to stow them within available launch shrouds.

Current State-Of-the-Art (SOA) deployable technologiess enable apertures, baselines, and arrays of up to several dozen meters to be stowed within existing launch shrouds.

However, the cost deployables increases quickly with increased size, driven by the complexity of the mechanisms required to enable them to fold up within the available volume as well as the testing necessary to ensure they deploy reliably on orbit.

As a result, aperture sizes significantly beyond 100 meters are not feasible or affordable with current technologies.

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