Credit: DARPA


Fresh ways of designing and manufacturing large structures on orbit has been bolstered by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

Eight teams have been selected under DARPA’s Novel Orbital Moon Manufacturing, Materials, and Mass Efficient Design (NOM4D) program.

“Current space systems are all designed, built, and tested on Earth before being launched into a stable orbit and deployed to their final operational configuration,” said Bill Carter NOM4D program manager in DARPA’s Defense Sciences Office.

Carter said that such constraints are particularly acute for large structures such as solar arrays, antennas and optical systems, where size is critical to performance.

Watch this space! Credit: ESA/Matthias Maurer

“NOM4D aims to enable a new paradigm where future structures that support DoD space systems are built off-Earth using designs optimized for the space environment, shedding launch constraints. This would enable enhanced capability, improved robustness, operation in higher orbits, and future cislunar applications,” Carter said in a DARPA statement.

Variety of challenges

The selected eight industry and university research teams are to tackle a variety of challenges focused on two areas.

For in-space materials and manufacturing, the teams are:

HRL Laboratories, LLC, Malibu, California, will be developing new die-less fabrication processes to make orbital mechanical elements and bonded structures on-orbit.

University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, will develop predictive material and correlative process models to enable on-orbit use of laser forming.

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Champaign, Illinois, is working to develop a high precision in-space composite forming process utilizing self-energized frontal polymerization.

Lunar regolith-derived, glass-ceramic mechanical structures for use in large-scale orbital applications.
Credit: NASA

Physical Sciences, Inc., Andover, Massachusetts, will develop continuous fabrication of regolith-derived, glass-ceramic mechanical structures for use in large-scale orbital applications.

Teledyne Scientific Company, LLC, Thousand Oaks, California, will build a comprehensive materials properties database of additive-modified regolith for use in controlled thermal expansion precision orbital structures.

For mass-efficient designs for in-space manufacturing, the teams are:

University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, will explore new design approaches to mass-efficient, high- precision, stable and resilient space structures based on metamaterial and metadamping concepts.

Opterus Research and Development, Inc., Loveland, Colorado, will develop designs for extreme mass efficient large-scale structures optimized for resiliency and mobility.

California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California, will design novel tension and bending hybrid architectures and structural components with highly anisotropic mechanical response.

Credit: ISS/NASA

Follow-on efforts

For NOM4D, the selected teams won’t be launching raw materials into space, collecting lunar samples or building structures on orbit. Any orbital experimentation would happen in potential follow-on efforts.

DARPA’s Carter said that, “assuming current space technology trends continue, in 10-20 years we expect to see advances that will enable DoD to take full advantage of the NOM4D-developed technologies and capabilities.”

This includes robotic manipulation sufficient to enable assembly of large structures from NOM4D-manufactured components, enhanced on-orbit mobility, and routine re-fueling of on-orbit assets.

“We also anticipate several other advantages, including more affordable space access and launch costs in LEO [low-earth orbit], GEO [geosynchronous orbit], cislunar space, and beyond,” Carter said.

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