NASA has agreed to partner with three commercial contractors to develop a space-based fabrication technology.
The contract awards, announced Dec. 8, are valued at a combined $10.2 million. The work is being awarded via NASA’s Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships.
Once the development phase of the fabrication project is completed, NASA intends to select partners to “further mature the technologies.” In a previous phase, the space agency secured proposals for ground-based prototypes of a multi-material fabrication lab — dubbed FabLab — and the new commercial partnerships will build upon that work.
“NASA is challenging industry partners to expand possibilities for making, repairing and recycling items in space,” said Niki Werkheiser, manager of in-space manufacturing operations at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. “The FabLab prototypes will provide valuable insights and help lay the foundation for meaningful on-demand manufacturing capabilities needed for sustainable human spaceflight missions.”
Space-based manufacturing is considered vital for operations such as removal of hazardous materials and asteroid mining. Benefits include the ability to lift raw materials for later processing more compactly than with premanufactured items.
NASA calls FabLab “part of a broad agency strategy and series of investments managed by NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems Division and Space Technology Mission Directorate to advance key technology capability areas.”