. 3D Additive Manufacturing (by Made In Space)

. SPACE  SYSTEMS / LORAL:  Historical Dragonfly Project 

. ORBITAL  ATK: CIRAS, The Commercial Infrastructure for Robotic Assembly and Services




In-Space Robotic Manufacturing and Assembly


Launched March 2016, AMF is a permanent manufacturing facility on the International Space Station (ISS), providing hardware manufacturing services to both NASA and the U.S. National Laboratory onboard. Twice the size of the technology demonstration 3D printer (see below), AMF can manufacture larger and more complex objects faster, with finer precision, and with multiple aerospace grade materials.

Under the agreement for use of AMF, Made In Space owns the manufacturing device while NASA and commercial customers use it as a service. During its time on the ISS, the AMF has manufactured a number of parts, tools, devices, and multi-part assemblies to be used on orbit and on Earth.

As the first commercially available manufacturing service in space, AMF has supported the ongoing research of using 3D printers to provide previously unavailable medical materials to remote areas of the planet. AMF and has also provided NASA with a platform to closely evaluate how on-orbit manufacturing technology will affect the future of the space industry, and ultimately encourage a shift in how we approach building structures and craft for space.

Made In Space designed its 3D printing as a modular device, easily upgraded, while are versatile in application and capabilities. Also, because the hash environment of space, MIS make its product to be able to survive the forces of launch and operate consistently on orbit for at least the rest of the life cycle of the International Space Station, supposed in 2024.

For space applications, AMF can print in a wide variety of materials (not just plastic!). Whether you need a robust radiation shield or an advanced microgravity support structure, it enables rapid iteration and deployment of your in-space needs in a number of eco-friendly and space-grade materials. 

Made In Space Company

In November 2015, NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) selected Made In Space' project for a public-private partnerships to advance Tipping Point Technologies. Funded by NASA, the project named Archinaut™ was to develop technologies and subsystems to enable the first additive manufacturing, aggregation, and assembly of large and complex systems in space without astronaut extravehicular activity (EVA). To make it, Made In Space working with Northrop Grumman Corporation and Oceaneering Space Systems as subcontractors.

Until today, satellite was designed to fit in the limited launch-shroud size and load/environment survivability requirements. Also, because the limits of lift capacity, the high risk and low availability of astronaut EVA for assembly, large space structures, like ISS, was not be possible since more a generation. With Archinaut' project, these constraint are minimized or removed.

Archinaut is a technology platform that enables autonomous manufacture and assembly of spacecraft systems on orbit.

In fact, Archinaut enables a wide range of in-space manufacturing and assembly capabilities by combining space-proven robotic manipulation with additive manufacturing demonstrated on the International Space Station (ISS) and in terrestrial laboratories.

3d Space Manufacturing in ISS. Credit: NASA

With Archinaut new designed spacecrafts are possible, while reducing the costs of launching satellite. That will enable by the synergy of its manufacturing and assembly capabilities.

Credit: Made In Space

Other implementations of Archinaut are make in-space production and assembly of backbone structures for large telescopes, repairs, augmentation capabilities, changing the assignment or purpose of the existing spacecraft, building new space stations .

Spacecraft leveraging Archinaut are optimized for the space environment rather than the launch environment, enabling significantly more capable systems produced at lower costs as required for today’s commercial markets and NASA’s future mission needs.

Description of Services for in-space printing

Customers pay Made In Space Inc. (MIS) to reserve a 3D print slot and can either provide their own 3D model or commission MIS to design one. Payment covers also operational costs:

• ISS IVA Station-Certified Materials & Documentation, Facilitation and Administration

• MIS Transport and Stowage to ISS & Safety Qualification & Human Factors Implementation Team

Depending on the mission, once a model is fabricated and removed from AMF, it can be utilized, stowed, returned to Earth, or even launched into Low Earth Orbit (as for CubeSat).

The price of a print slot will vary depending on the requirements and urgency. For a simple, small part with low priority in the queue, you may pay less than $9,000. But, for a higher priority, with multiple complexity parts and/or if that require Made In Space Engineering time, the costs could double or triple.

With the AMF, the tools and parts can be custom made according to individual user preference and application specific needs.

End Effectors

Medical Devices

Historical Dragonfly' Project



— New venture to be called Space Infrastructure Services (SIS)
— SSL selected to provide first advanced satellite servicing spacecraft
— SES, a world leading satellite-enabled solutions provider, contracts for first refueling mission

San Francisco - June 28, 2017  SSL MDA Holdings Inc., a global communications and information company, today announced important milestones in its progress to bring transformational on-orbit satellite servicing to market. Space Infrastructure Services LLC (SIS), a new U.S. company, will commercialize sophisticated satellite servicing capabilities, including refueling. SIS will be majority owned by Finance Technology Leverage LLC (FTL), a global investment company headquartered in Silicon Valley, along with other U.S. investors, with SSL MDA Holdings maintaining a minority ownership share.  Full financing for the venture is expected to conclude in the coming weeks. 

“This new venture is designed to provide satellite operators with more options in fleet management,” noted Howard L. Lance, president and CEO of SSL MDA Holdings. “Both commercial and government satellite operators are looking for flexibility in managing capital expenditures and better ways to incorporate resiliency into their fleets.  By combining our world-class capabilities in satellite manufacturing and robotics together, SSL MDA is uniquely positioned to enable this next-generation capability.”

On-orbit satellite servicing will provide operators with the ability to enhance the existing use of space assets through life extension, inspection, and repair. In addition, satellite servicing provides a capability to perform partial assembly in orbit, either augmenting existing satellites, replacing elements from modular satellites or constructing larger satellites freed from the mass and size constraints of launch. LEARN MORE


PALO ALTO, Calif. – August 26, 2015 — Space Systems/Loral, LLC (SSL), a leading provider of commercial satellites, today announced it was awarded a contract from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to study on-orbit robotic assembly of geostationary communications satellites. Called Dragonfly, the program is designed to enable larger and more powerful satellites that cannot be launched fully assembled, to be packaged in pieces within a standard launch vehicle fairing.  

“The Dragonfly program gives SSL the opportunity to demonstrate our advanced robotics capabilities with a mission that has the potential to transform the way satellites are built,” said John Celli, president of SSL. “SSL has a track record of partnering with DARPA on cost-effective developments that leverage commercial practices and apply to both military and commercial use.”

As one of the world’s most prolific manufacturers of geostationary communications satellites, SSL brings a wealth of expertise to the Dragonfly study including heritage robotics. The Dragonfly concept, which is designed to have both military and commercial applications, is for satellites to self-assemble from an efficiently stowed state while in orbit with a focus on the installation and reconfiguration of large radio frequency (RF) antenna reflectors.

The study is scheduled for a five-month first phase during which SSL will seek to demonstrate how assembling satellites on orbit could lower satellite cost and mass, while at the same time enabling higher satellite performance. SSL is planning to further develop on-orbit satellite assembly capability and as part of this effort, has submitted a proposal to NASA for collaboration on taking the concept to a ground demonstration followed by a flight application.

More Details

The Tactical Technology Office (TTO) of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) recently funded a study led by Space Systems Loral (SSL), called Dragonfly, to evaluate the feasibility of assembling antenna farms on orbit during the commissioning phase of a standard communications satellite in geosynchronous orbit (GEO).

The premise of the study was that, In-Space Assembly enabled alternative packaging and deployment approaches for larger reflectors, as well as the opportunity to carry additional reflectors, thus doubling the operational capability of a conventional GEO communication satellite (ComSat) by better exploiting the available launch fairing volume.

Dragonfly technology would allow larger and more powerful satellites that cannot be launched fully assembled to be packaged in pieces within a standard launch vehicle fairing, and robotically assemble while on-orbit.

The Dragonfly project uses an ultra-light-weight robot (levered from Mars rover and Phoenix Lander robotic technologies) to performs the in-space antenna assembly using a specialized tool derived from experience within the DARPA Orbital Express Autonomous Satellite Servicing Mission and the NASA'Automated Structure Assembly Laboratory.

The process of assembling a precise and thermally stable mechanical connection is coordinated using the approach proven through a decade of space station assembly. The mechanical connector chosen leverages a mature flight proven design developed by NASA as an approach to ISA by astronauts.

Assembled antennas offer many architectural choices and business transition opportunities Larger reflectors  Higher throughput data rate for broadband and comm-on-the-move  Increased transmitted data/$ for reduced cost of service  Extensive frequency reuse for more data per allocated spectrum  Narrower beam possible for directed comm  Better beam isolation, roll-off for improved comm security and capacity Additional reflectors  Additional, more, diverse coverage per satellite  Additional throughput via more transponders  Wider geographic coverage, more selective spot coverage to match traffic Exchangeable reflectors  Replace or re position reflectors on-orbit to support a variety of coverage patterns for different and reconfigurable missions throughout satellite life  Ability to launch and install new/alternate reflectors over the mission (via a service like SSL’s GEO- Payload Orbital Delivery System (PODS)) to expand the mission and performance

Assembly occurs as follows: first the reflector is removed from the earth deck (Fig. 1a) and translated (Fig. 1b) to the installation position where the reflector is secured (Fig. 1c) followed by a similar sequence to install the second reflector (Fig. 1d). It is straightforward to extend the assembly to add additional reflectors, relocating the robot as needed.

On left, after 4 reflectors was conventionally deployed, a first reflector is removed from the storage location placed on the top and installed robotically (green arm), while on the right, we see its installation. 

On the above pictures, the robot proceed to the integrated of the installed reflectors.

Assembly robot and tool, 3.5-meters long

When a customer pay to launch its commercial GEO ComSat (satellite), it will carry its own ultra-light assembly robot (stowed for launch alongside the reflectors on the Earth deck - top-right picture). This "arm" will perform the initial assembly during the commissioning phase and any reconfigurations that may occur throughout the life of the mission. To minimize integration cost and changes, the robot will share the existing spacecraft processor and internal data bus.

Once ISA becomes a common approach, a resident GEO servicer will perform the assembly rather than each satellite supporting its own robotic equipment.

The robot is commanded from the standard GEO ComSat Mission Control Center (MCC) using a custom command and control console tied to a virtual payload channel via the standard commanding uplink (2 kbps) and telemetry downlink (16 kbps x 3 channels). This additional function has virtually no impact on the MCC and its operating protocol.

 The robot is controlled through a combination of pre-programmed scripts and an in-situ registration process to match trajectories to the actual geometric environment. A set of visual situational awareness cameras provides compressed imagery to ground based operators who monitor progress and provide simple, asynchronous commands such as “trigger next sequence”, “bump two steps left, then continue script”, and “re-register now”. A bore sight camera provides imagery for proximity and contact alignment as well as verification of tool operation.

 Registration of the robot and tool on the spacecraft can be performed at any time through an operator command that downlinks a hi-resolution image from any camera to a vision-based pose estimator running on the ground. This utility automatically uploads a command that adjusts the robot tool position and orientation to match the pre-planned/scripted pose relative to any selected feature, such as a fiducial mark or target. The re-registered script continues from where it was interrupted for registration.

 Local force control in the robot handles any remaining misalignments during contact operations such as grasping and insertion/withdrawal tasks during assembly and disassembly to achieve strain free assembly.

Related Subjects

This video depicts DARPA's Phoenix program. Learn more at http://go.usa.gov/whV

Check out this artist's depiction of how a retired satellite's still usable antenna might one day be salvaged and turned into a new space asset as part of DARPA's Phoenix program. The goal of Phoenix is to develop and demonstrate technologies to cooperatively harvest and re-use valuable components from retired, nonworking satellites in GEO to create new space systems at greatly reduced cost. By robotically removing and re-using GEO-based space apertures and antennas from de-commissioned satellites in the graveyard or disposal orbit, space "junk" could become space "asset."

Credit: DarpaTV

DARPA’s new Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites (RSGS) program seeks to develop technologies that would enable cooperative inspection and servicing in geosynchronous Earth orbit (GEO) and demonstrate those technologies on orbit within the next five years. Under the RSGS vision, that DARPA-developed toolkit module, including hardware and software, would attach to a privately developed spacecraft to create a commercially owned and operated robotic servicing vehicle (RSV) that could make house calls in space. If successful, the effort could radically lower the risk and cost of operating in GEO.

Credit: DarpaTV

http://RoboticsAndAutomationNews.com [:-:] Nasa has awarded a contract to SSL for the development of a robotic spacecraft which will fix malfunctioning satellites while in orbit.

This video illustrates DARPA's Phoenix program and some of the technical progress that has been made since it began in July 2012. As performers demonstrate the progress of their work in a lab, an artist's simulation of a fully-realized Phoenix demonstration scenario runs in the background to help illustrate how the technology may be applied.

Learn more about the program here: http://go.usa.gov/4b4w

Source: Commercial Application of In-Space Assembly, John Lymer and Al. from Space Systems Loral, Sean Doughtery from MDA US Systems, Bill Doggett and al. from NASA, Langley Research Center, Hampton, VA 23681, USA.


Mission Objectives

To mature in-orbit satellite assembly technologies through a public-private partnership with NASA

Robotic Assembly

• Increase robotic assembly infrastructure

• Demonstrate robotic joining of modules

Reversible Joining Methods

• Demonstrate precise, reversible, quick and simple mechanical and electrical connections

Metrology and Assembly Configuration

• Identify an approach to validate space assembly geometries

Modular Assembly

• Demonstrate simple, repeatable module-to-module interfaces for structural assembly

Mission Partners:

NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate NASA Langley Research Center


• Jigging Assembly Robot (NINJAR)

• E-Beam Welder

NASA Glenn Research Center


Naval Research Lab

• Robot Control Software

• Integrated Robotic Workstation

Orbital ATK

• CIRAS Mission Prime with Commercial Investment

• System Integrator

• Modular Truss Backbone

• Tool Changer & Tools

• Quick Disconnect Interface

CIRAS: Commercial Infrastructure for Robotic Assembly and Services

Mission Description

The Commercial Infrastructure for Robotic Assembly and Services (CIRAS) program will advance key technologies for in-orbit manufacturing and assembly of large space structures to meet goals for robotic and human exploration of the solar system.

CIRAS is a public-private partnership between Orbital ATK and NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD). Our teammates include NASA Langley Research Center, NASA Glenn Research Center, and the Naval Research Lab.

CIRAS will mature technologies necessary for robotic assembly of large space structures such as next-generation telescopes, solar-powered structures for transport, and communications platforms.

These capabilities include reversible joints on a structure and addressing precision measurement and alignment through a 20-meter robotic arm and a precision robot. The first phase of the CIRAS program is to advance the technology readiness through a ground demonstration.

CIRAS will build upon the existing capabilities of Orbital ATK’s Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV) such as its rendezvous and docking capability. MEV-1 is currently in production at Orbital ATK’s Dulles, Virginia, satellite manufacturing facility and is scheduled for launch in 2018.

CIRAS was awarded under the NASA STMD’s "Utilizing Public-Private Partnerships to Advance Tipping Point Technologies” solicitation. This program encourages commercial companies to mature technologies beyond their “tipping point” with the goal of developing and delivering them to market.

CIRAS The Commercial Infrastructure for Robotic Assembly and Services OrbitalATK.com ©2017 Orbital ATK. All Rights Reserved. FS003_17_OA_7485

Space Logistics Services

Space Logistics LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Orbital ATK, provides cooperative in-orbit satellite life extension and maneuvering services to geosynchronous satellite operators using its Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV). The MEV docks with customers’ existing satellites providing the propulsion and attitude control needed to extend their lives.

The MEV is capable of docking with virtually all-geosynchronous satellites with minimal interruption to operations. It will enable satellite operators to significantly extend satellite mission life, activate new markets, drive asset value and protect their franchises. Space Logistics LLC delivers life extension services that are flexible, scalable, capital-efficient and low-risk.

Our breakthrough innovation provides satellite operators unprecedented flexibility in asset deployment, enabling game-changing advances in financial and operating flexibility, and risk mitigation.

How It Works

Our Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV) is based on the GEOStar 3 bus that is modified to safely rendezvous and dock with an orbiting satellite in the geosynchronous orbit. To do so, a suite of integrated proximity sensors is used to reliably and safely rendezvous with the client satellite. The MEV then utilizes a simple mechanical docking system that attaches to existing features on the client satellite creating a firm connection between the MEV and the client satellite. This docking system is compatible with an estimated 80 percent of all geosynchronous satellites on orbit today.

Once docked, the MEV will take over the attitude and orbit maintenance of the combined vehicle stack to meet the pointing and station keeping needs of the customer. When the customer no longer requires the service, the MEV will undock and move away to begin service for the next customer. The MEV provides a 15-year design life and sufficient fuel to enable well in excess of 15 years of station kept life while docked with a typical 2000 kg geosynchronous satellite. The rendezvous, proximity and docking systems of the MEV allow for numerous dockings and undockings during the life of the MEV.


Our Space Logistics Services are specifically designed to fit customers’ business models, as well as their technical requirements. The simplicity and cost-effectiveness of the service provides customers with access to new markets and new opportunities — and protects asset value. Space Logistics Services provide operators with opportunities to improve financial performance, better manage cash flows, break down barriers to enter new markets and reduce risks by:

  • Extending satellite life to prolong revenues or defer capital expenses

  • Redeploying satellites to start new orbital roles

  • Creating in-orbit backup to protect revenues

  • Protecting satellite revenues from procurement delays and launch failures

Future Capability

Our vision is to establish a fleet of MEV based satellite-servicing vehicles in GEO that can address most any servicing need. Orbital ATK continues to make deep investments in in-orbit servicing and is working closely with U.S. Government agencies to develop the next generation space logistics technologies. These technologies include robotics and high power solar electric propulsion to enable future services building upon our keep-it-simple approach to satellite life extension. These future services are expected to include:

  • Fluid and gas replenishment

  • Inspection & repair

  • Replacement or enhancement of parts

  • Incorporation of auxiliary propulsion, navigation, power, payloads and other functions to enhance the performance or extend the satellite's life

  • Capture and recovery or removal of derelict satellites

  • In-orbit robotic assembly of space structures