Credit: DARPA/DSO

The Defense Sciences Office (DSO) at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has blueprinted a wanted and visionary wish list of new research to enable the fabrication of future space structures – including use of lunar resources to enable those structures.

“Specific technologies of interest include high performance feedstock materials, mass- and energy-efficient off-Earth manufacturing methods, high performance lunar resource utilization capabilities, and new design paradigms that will revolutionize the mass efficiency and precision achievable by future structures,” according to a DARPA/DSO statement.

Credit: DARPA/DSO/Inside Outer Space screengrab

The Novel Orbital and Moon Manufacturing, Materials, and Mass-efficient Design (NOM4D), pronounced “NOMAD,” program was detailed today via a “Proposers Day.”

Why the effort?

First, here’s the issue.

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.

That’s according to William Carter, program manager for the DARPA’s Defense Sciences Office. NOM4D is intended to flesh out ways that solar arrays, antennas or optics can be designed for the space or lunar environment.

William Carter, program manager for the DARPA’s Defense Sciences Office.
Credit: DARPA/DSO/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Two technical areas

The NOM4D program comprises two technical areas, Carter explains.

“The first plans to develop and demonstrate foundational materials, manufacturing processes, and designs to enable the on-orbit and on-Moon fabrication of robust, resilient, and high-precision structures that will support future off-earth space systems,” Carter points out.

“The second technical area will investigate innovative designs that take advantage of the ability to manufacture in space, yet enable precise, mass-efficient future space structures that withstand maneuvers, eclipses, damage, and thermal cycles inherent to the space and lunar environments,” he adds. “The goal is to do so with mass efficiencies that transcend the limits of today’s stiffness-driven designs.”

Huge space structures

NOM4D is a three-phase, 54-month effort.

As spelled out in NOM4D documentation, the program will also explore opportunities to leverage existing materials on the Moon (e.g., regolith) as a resource for future lunar-derived materials and structures.

Manufacturing on-orbit using Earth- or lunar-derived materials has the potential to obviate many of the limitations associated with current deployment and assembly methods.

For example, huge structures that are greater than 328 feet (100 meters) in diameter require multiple launches that increase complexity as well as the time and cost of deployment.

Earth’s Moon, a dusty denizen of deep space and potential feedstock for the future.
Credit: NASA/Jeff Williams

Lunar feedstock

Past state-of-the-art lunar resource utilization approaches have focused on large infrastructural needs, such as buildings, structural housings, that require high compressive strength rather than high tensile strength/stiffness materials required for spacecraft and/or relaunch of Moon-derived materials structures back into orbit from the lunar surface.

Future inspace and lunar-derived manufacturing will require feedstock that is flexible — capable of being formed into many useful shapes – items that also exhibit high precision in the formed shape, and require minimal energy to convert from the lunar feedstock state into a final rigid mass-efficient part.

Building a precision structure while minimizing the required mass fraction brought from Earth will enable a spectrum of Department of Defense systems to be built using lunar-derived materials.

“For the purposes of understanding the hypothetical use case, proposers may consider fabrication of structures on-orbit or on the lunar surface for relaunch back into orbit as long as the proposed system is consistent with the Outer Space Treaty,” NOM4D documentation explains.

Credit: DAPRA/DSO/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Space ecosphere

“People have been thinking about on-orbit manufacturing for some time, so we expect to demonstrate new materials and manufacturing technologies by the program’s end,” Carter says. “The lunar-surface focus area will be geared more towards trade studies and targeted demonstrations.”

Credit: Karl Strolleis/AFRL/Inside Outer Space screengrab

NOM4D assumes an established “space ecosphere by 2030.” Elements that shore up this vision 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.

 

Information resources

For more information on the Novel Orbital and Moon Manufacturing, Materials, and Mass-efficient Design (NOM4D) effort, go to:

https://events.sa-meetings.com/ehome/index.php?eventid=602211&

Also, go to this NOM4D Presolicitation (Original) document at:

https://beta.sam.gov/opp/e7e1ad3ff31c4eb3b74524ae672b149e/view?keywords=%22DARPA%20NOVEL%20ORBITAL%20AND%20MOON%20MANUFACTURING,%20MATERIALS,%20AND%20MASS-EFFICIENT%20DESIGN%22&sort=-relevance&index=&is_active=true&page=1

 

 

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