Additive Manufacturing in Spacecraft Design and In-Space Robotic Fabrication of Large Structures

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Virginia Tech


Additive Manufacturing (AM, 3D printing) has made significant advancements over the past decade and has become a viable alternative to traditional machining techniques. AM offers several advantages over traditional manufacturing techniques including improved geometric freedom, reduction in part lead time, cost savings, enhanced customization, mass reduction, part elimination, and remote production. There are many different AM processes with the most commonly used process being Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF). Small satellites have also made significant advancements over the past two decades with the number of missions launched annually increased by orders of magnitude over that time span. Small satellites offer several advantages compared to traditional spacecraft architectures including increased access to space, lower development costs, and disaggregated architectures. On-orbit manufacturing and assembly have become major research and development topics for government and commercial entities seeking the capability to build very large structures in space. AM is well suited on-orbit manufacturing since the process is highly automated, produces little material waste, and allows for a large degree of geometric freedom. This dissertation seeks to address three major research objectives regarding applications of additive manufacturing in space systems: demonstrate the feasibility of 3D printing an ESPA class satellite using FFF, develop a FFF 3D printer that is capable of operating in high vacuum and characterize its performance, and analyze the coupled dynamics between a satellite and a robot arm used for 3D printing in-space. This dissertation presents the design, finite element analysis, dynamic testing, and model correlation of AdditiveSat, an additively manufactured small satellite fabricated using FFF. This dissertation also presents the design, analysis, and test results for a passively cooled FFF 3D printer capable of manufacturing parts out of engineering grade thermoplastics in the vacuum of space. Finally, this dissertation presents a numerical model of a free-flying small satellite with an attached robotic arm assembly to simulate 3D printing structures on-orbit with analysis of the satellite controls required to control the dynamics of the highly coupled system.



Spacecraft, Additive Manufacturing, Robotics, On-Orbit Manufacturing, High Vacuum, Satellite, 3D Printing, Fused Filament Fabrication, In-Space Servicing Assembly and Manufacturing