Credit: DARPA

It is called the Novel Orbital and Moon Manufacturing, Materials and Mass-efficient Design program, or NOM4D in DARPA speak – and DARPA stands for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

DARPA sees the NOM4D effort as a way to pioneer technologies for adaptive, off-Earth manufacturing to produce large space items and structures on the Moon.

According to a DARPA statement, “as commercial space companies increase the cadence of successful rocket launches, access to space is becoming more routine for both government and commercial interests. But even with regular launches, modern rockets impose mass and volume limits on the payloads they deliver to orbit. This size constraint hinders developing and deploying large-scale, dynamic space systems that can adapt to changes in their environment or mission.”

Cadence kudos: Another SpaceX Falcon 9 liftoff.
Credit: SpaceX

NOM4D wants to address this problem.

Future defense missions

Bill Carter, program manager in DARPA’s Defense Sciences Office, explains the vision is to develop foundational materials, processes, and designs needed to realize in-space manufacturing of large, precise, and resilient Defense Department systems.

“We will explore the unique advantages afforded by on-orbit manufacturing using advanced materials ferried from Earth,” Carter said in a DARPA statement. “As an example, once we eliminate the need to survive launch, large structures such as antennas and solar panels can be substantially more weight efficient, and potentially much more precise. We will also explore the unique features of in-situ resources obtained from the Moon’s surface as they apply to future defense missions.”

Moon base design.
Credit: ESA/P. Carril

Next step

As for the next step, NOM4D is divided into three 18-month phases that build towards the ability to create ultra-precise, mass efficient structures from feedstock.

Phase I is considered the proof of concept for materials and designs that meet stringent structural efficiency targets using the exemplar problem of a 1-megawatt solar array.

Phase II focuses on risk reduction and technical maturation of the technology to meet structural targets, while maintaining high precision sufficient to meet the requirements of an exemplar 100m diameter RF reflector.

Phase III drives a substantial leap in precision to enable such things as infrared reflective structures suitable for use in a segmented long-wave infrared telescope.

If successful, the Axiom International Commercial Space Station is billed as a “historic shift” in human spaceflight.
Credit: Axiom Space

Space ecosphere

NOM4D assumes an established space ecosphere by 2030 comprising reliable logistics, facilities, and validation.

This look into the future includes rapid, frequent launch with regularly scheduled lunar visits; mature robotic manipulation tools for building structures in space and routine on-orbit refueling of robotic servicing spacecraft; and the availability of in-space, non-destructive evaluation methods for in-process monitoring of manufacturing and near real-time design adjustments.

DARPA will hold a “Proposers Day” webinar, scheduled for February 26, 2021.

For more information on the NOM4D webinar, go to:

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