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Autonomous End-to-End In-Space Additive Manufacturing of Metallics

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Conference Abstract: Driven by the need over the past decades of increasing world-wide access and utilization of the Low and Geostationary Earth Orbits for commercial, civil, and military and intelligence applications, key advancements in various area of In Space Assembly and Manufacturing have been in development to support of a range of In-Space Operations (ISO). The ability to manufacture-or transform raw or recycled materials into components, products, or infrastructure-in the Space environment lies at the core of ISAM. To that end, additive manufacturing or 3D printing demonstrated its overall potential to serve as the core technology set upon which In-Space manufacturing capabilities can be built. However, critical capability gaps also became clear in not only the ability to inspect and qualify printed part, but also a suitable metal 3D printing technologies capable of working in Space environments.
Fundamentally, a new end-to-end autonomous metal 3D printing and inspection operation based on a metal 3D printing technique that does NOT rely on thermal melt-fusion and powder feedstock can bring In-Space manufacturing of metallics components and structures into reality. This type of approach can enable various modes of metal part fabrication, surface repair, and joining of dissimilar materials in the Space environment where and when it is needed. The Resonance Assisted Deposition (RAD) technology, demonstrated by the author’s team, builds net-shape metal parts using oscillatory-strain energy with solid metal wire feedstock without melting. The fully mechanically confined material mechanics nature of this technique allows it to be unaffected by gravity conditions. When fully transitioned and deployed, this approach can enable a future scenario where a range of items are produced and inspected on-orbit or at the point of need in three modalities: discrete small-to-medium component printing, collaborative-robotics enabled large-structure production, and In-Space metal structure joining and repair.