6–10 January 2020
Hyatt Regency Orlando,
Orlando, Florida

On-Orbit Manufacturing Could Open ‘Final Frontier’


Moderator Thomas Cwik, manager, Space Technology Program, Ocean Worlds Technology, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory; Alfred Tadros, vice president, Space Infrastructure and Civil Space, SSL; Robert Hoyt, CEO, Tethers Unlimited Inc.; Andrew Rush, president and CEO, Made in Space Inc.; Ellis Brazeal, partner, Johns Walker LLP, and adjunct professor, College of Engineering, University of Alabama

by Lawrence Garrett, AIAA web editor

AIAA SCITECH FORUM, San Diego, Jan. 7, 2019 — Experts in the “In-Space Factories” panel discussed advanced technologies and collaborative efforts between government and private industry that promise to establish on-orbit assembly, manufacturing and servicing as the backbone of a new space economy.

Tom Cwik, manager of the Space Technology Program and Ocean Worlds Technology at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said on-orbit assembly is a viable solution to the longstanding challenge of “limited” payload capacities of launch vehicles.

Alfred Tadros, vice president of Space Infrastructure and Civil Space at SSL, said on-orbit operations must be transformed to advance the commercial satellite industry. He said that while today’s on-orbit satellite operations consist of mostly fixed assets, future ones must depend on serviced assets capable of being upgraded, relocated, repaired and refueled.

“We are one of the only industries that will dispose of billion-dollar assets after they’re depleted of fuel, even if there’s residual capability remaining,” Tadros said.

He said SSL is collaborating with NASA and DARPA on separate projects aimed at advancing critical technologies in satellite servicing and exploration.

“It is the intention of DARPA and the U.S. government to motivate, incentivize, tear down technical barriers, regulatory barriers and perception barriers, in order to make this kind of complex on-orbit servicing a reality,” Tadros said.


Participants in the panel discussion "In-Space Factories,” Jan. 7 at the 2019 AIAA Science and Technology Forum and Exposition (AIAA SciTech 2019) in San Diego.

Robert Hoyt, CEO of Tethers Unlimited Inc., said one of the primary challenges in growing the new space economy is determining how to get the needed materials into space. He cited his company’s Refabricator project as one solution.

Refabricator is a recycling and 3D-printing system launched to the International Space Station in November. It is slated for installation this week, Hoyt said, adding that the long-term objective is to get to a point of using materials and resources that exist in space.

Made in Space President and CEO Andrew Rush predicted that on-orbit manufacturing will serve as the catalyst for the coming space economy.

“We deeply believe that the final frontier — the space economy — is going to be opened by manufacturing,” Rush said.

Watch the full video for more details.

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