3D Printing has the chance to completely revolutionize the Space industry. NASA, SpaceX and a number of other companies are currently investigating the use of 3D printing for different space applications. Tethers Unlimited (TUI) is another company developing 3D printing solutions for the space industry and they have just announced they will be teaming up with the Air Force Research Laboratory to develop spacecraft structures with embedded radiation shielding.
TUI will continue development of its own technology under the partnership, with an intent to create inexpensive and innovative 3D printing solutions for radiation shielding. The “Versatile Structural Radiation Shielding” (VSRS) technology under development at TUI is already highly effective at absorbing space radiation. It takes advantage of the flexibility of 3D printing to create affordable customized parts that minimize the mass required to shield spacecraft.
“The desire to lower the cost and improve the performance of spacecraft systems is driving many satellite developers to consider commercial, off-the-shelf, or ‘COTS’ electronics, but these components are more susceptible to radiation than the very expensive hardened components that are traditionally used,” said Nestor Voronka, TUI’s Chief Technologist. “The VSRS technology integrates radiation shielding into the spacecraft structures so we can enable those COTS components to operate reliably while maintaining their low-cost and low-mass advantages.”
“The VSRS project builds upon our extensive work over the past five years adapting additive manufacturing techniques to fabricate multifunctional spacecraft structures,” said TUI’s CEO and Chief Scientist, Dr. Rob Hoyt. TUI has used these processes to create spacecraft exoskeletons with integral multi-layer thermal insulation, and under funding from NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts program it is currently developing ways to fabricate spacecraft structures on-orbit. “We hope to leverage the power of additive manufacturing to enable a radical change in the way spacecraft are built, dramatically reducing costs and increasing performance for many missions.”
At the current time the technology that TUI is developing is purely for unmanned spacecraft, although NASA and TUI are looking into more ambitious space-related 3D printed applications and are not ruling out the use of this technology for future manned missions.
Tethers Unlimited was founded in 1994 as a partnership between Dr. Robert P. Hoyt and Dr. Robert L. Forward to develop products based upon space tether technologies. In 1997 the company incorporated as Delaware C-Corp, adding Arthur M. Dula to its Board of Directors. Since then, TUI has expanded its focus and expertise to address technology needs for high-performance components for small satellites, robotic assembly and fabrication technologies, optical fiber winding and deployment, navigation sensors, SDR-based communications systems, and other advanced technology areas.