SpiderFab Spider Robots To Weave Space Structures

SpiderFab robotic spiders may build giant orbital structures above all our heads.


(SpiderFab robot spider in space)

SpiderFab could help build big radio antennas, spacecraft booms and solar arrays in the next decade or so, said Rob Hoyt, CEO and chief scientist of Tethers Unlimited. But he has an even grander vision for the technology (and associated projects the company is working on) over the long haul.

Our really long-term objective for all of this work is to eventually enable the use of in-situ resources to construct the infrastructurein space needed to support humanity's expansion throughout the solar system," Hoyt said March 4 during a presentation with NASA's Future In-Space Operations (FISO) working group.

SpiderFab is an effort to decrease costs and increase efficiencies. The idea calls for launching raw materials, such as carbon fiber, to orbit. There, robots would transform these materials into truss substructures, and then assemble and integrate these pieces into larger systems.

The potential benefits of such an approach are substantial, Hoyt said.

"The primary one will be that we can deploy apertures and baselines that are much larger than we can currently fit into launch shrouds," he said. "The payoff of that will be higher power, higher resolution, higher sensitivity and higher bandwidth for a wide range of NASA, DoD [Department of Defense] and commercial space missions."

Furthermore, objects built in space can be sleeker and simpler than ones launched from the ground, since they don't need to survive the rigors of launch. That should lead to reductions in design complexity and system mass, which could lead to significant cost savings, Hoyt added.

Science fiction writers imagined space spiders and their uses a quarter-century ago. In 1978, Arthur C. Clarke wrote about a spider used to test the cables of a space elevator in The Fountains of Paradise. Spinnerettes were used to handle and dispense continuous pseudo one-dimensional diamond crystal in building the cables.

Author Charles Sheffield also wrote about a machine he called a Spider in his 1979 novel The Web Between the Worlds; these devices were able to extrude cable in a manner similar to the way real spiders spin their webs.

Via Space.com; thanks to Fred Kiesche for pointing out this story.

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