NASA funds research into self-building spaceships

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NASA funds research into self-building spaceships Technology News Blog
Considering the difficulties of getting even relatively small
spacecraft like the SpaceX Dragon into orbit, the idea of launching larger interplanetary craft from Earth's surface seems especially daunting. To address this, NASA thinks that future spacefaring vehicles could actually construct themselves after they've launched using onboard 3D printers, eventually transforming into ships much larger and more complex than anything that could ever be built on the planet.
The space agency recently awarded $100,000 to a project called SpiderFab that aims to study this concept and ultimately produce designs for such a craft. In theory, a small vehicle could launch in a rocket carrying the raw materials needed by an onboard 3D printer. Unlike fully-assembled craft, it wouldn't need to be designed to fold up or built to withstand the extreme forces involved in liftoff and ascent into space.
NASA thinks the concept could also be expanded to create a spaceship that would find its own raw materials once in space, such as metal from asteroids or even spare parts from defunct satellites. In addition to building vehicles, the technology could be used to construct massive radio telescopes and other hardware of a scale and complexity that could never be launched from Earth.
Just imagine a space station that could "print" itself, without the need for astronauts or multiple, expensive trips to bring loads of components into orbit. Or maybe just a giant space baby like the one seen in "2001: A Space Odyssey."
This article was written by Randy Nelson and originally appeared on Tecca
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In article <e204c1ab-9ece-48df-a2bc-2f1b4598d283

While I'm all for advances in technology, this makes it clear that NASA simply DOES NOT UNDERSTAND THE PROBLEM.
If spacecraft are to be "constructed" using 3d printers, you still have to get the mass needed into orbit.
The problem is that it still costs vastly too much to get a pound of mass into orbit. As long as we are throwing away a multimillion dollar booster on each launch, that will continue to be the case. The fuel cost for an Apollo launch, at today's prices, would be about 5 million dollars. To put that in perspective, a Falcon 9 launch costs 54 million dollars to put up less than 1/10 the payload.
The Space Shuttle was a blunder that should never have been built. NASA should have followed the Air Force model and gone by small steps. Get the thermal protection system working right. Get the engines working right. Get each individual piece working right, then put them together in a slightly scaled up package and get that working right. Then scale it again. But instead NASA in their arrogance assumed that their untried engines and their untried thermal protection system and their untried solid rocket boosters and the rest would all work just as predicted, and when they didn't it was a disaster.

How about we just shoot NASA and give their budget to DARPA, that actually seems to do useful things with it?
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says...

I do not disagree with your assesment of the shuttle (although hindsight is usually more accurate than foresight), But I would not hold up DARPA as a paradigm of wise spending. They fund way more wacky, useless stuff than NASA. Most large corporations that fund their own research are no better; their bad decisions are just hidden from public view (and usually covered up inside the company as well).
Regarding the 3D printer project. It is not necessarily as silly as the above article makes it sound. Here is a better summary: http://www.nasa.gov/offices/oct/early_stage_innovation/niac/2012_phase_I_fellows_hoyt_spiderfab.html
The point is to make kilometer scale objects that could never be launched, such as large interferometer baselines or long baseline radio telescope arrays. The 3D printing can also be used to reduce weight by making more complex truss patterns the same way they make lighter 3D printed bicycles.
$100,000 is not a lot of money for an engineering project, so it may be just an early proof of concept study.
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snipped-for-privacy@removethis.ix.netcom.com says...

DARPA funds "silly stuff" but they don't spend billions on single programs that turn out to be crap.

http://www.nasa.gov/offices/oct/early_stage_innovation/niac/2012_phase_I_fellows_hoyt_spiderfab.html
I don't have a problem with the notion of a 3d printer as an orbital fabricator, but NASA does not have their eye on the ball. They're looking for glory when what's needed is a Jeep.
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On Fri, 14 Sep 2012 09:48:00 -0700, "anorton"

Thats actually a VERY good idea, if they can make it work properly.
Spinning kilometer sized objects in direct sunlight..does seem fraught with some dangers however.
Gunner
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The failure was in not foreseeing that the USSR would soon fall.
http://www.fas.org/spp/military/program/imint/kh-12.htm "Although the KH-12 was originally designed to be place into orbit (and perhaps serviced and refueled in orbit) by the Shuttle,..."
What did you think drove the Shuttle's design requirements???
siv54
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anorton wrote:

I wonder what a large optical telescope array could see with long exposures and massive image processing.
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It could resolve more stars into disks instead of points: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_stars_with_resolved_images but there is a huge gap between imaging stars and imaging planets.
The search for planets by measuring stellar dimming from occultation puts limits on the likelihood of many massive unknown dark objects orbiting the stars we have checked.
jsw
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On Fri, 14 Sep 2012 00:06:42 -0700, Too_Many_Tools wrote:

Oh boy. NASA in charge of the software that's gonna keep us from being supplanted by machine-based life. Why do I not feel comforted?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Von_Neumann_probe#Von_Neumann_probes
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On Fri, 14 Sep 2012 09:00:33 -0400, J. Clarke wrote:

I think NASA's point is that the mass needed for a spacecraft that's constructed in space is a lot lower than the mass needed for a spacecraft that's constructed here, then needs to withstand 6 or 8 or 10 g's, or whatever.
But your point about launch costs is well taken. Do you happen to have about 60km of really strong cable lying around?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_elevator
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Tim Wescott wrote:

But lifting the manufacturing machinery means you have to build a minimum number of ships to break even. Maybe 10 or maybe 100.

60 km? xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
I crossed out what I started to write about 45,000 miles (2 * geosync orbit) after looking at the article.
The article made me think...
OK, the counterweight means it can be shorter than 45,000 miles, and I guess it can move (reel itself in) to keep the center of mass in place.
Giant Weed Whacker!
I crossed out what I wrote when I realized you meant 60,000 miles. Right?
Thinking of a weed whacker, the chance of a collision with another satellite is much greater than sat-to-sat. We rely a great deal on the fact that sats at the same altitude are at the same speed.
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Not if their eccentricity and inclination differ.
jsw
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Jim Wilkins wrote:

Not many satellite orbits are very eccentric, but there is still a much greater chance of collision than between 2 satellites.
If the orbit is inclined the elevator still cuts across it twice a day.
My point is that collision avoidance would be a concern much more often than with other satellites. You would never avoid a collision thanks to altitude.
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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Molniya_orbit
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