Space fabrication to be explored through DARPA’s new NOM4D program

DARPAThe NOM4D (Novel Orbital Moon Manufacturing, Materials, and Mass Efficient Design) program is underway with eight industrial and academic research teams under contract. Selected teams are tasked with providing foundational proof-of-concept materials science, manufacturing, and design technologies to enable the production of future space-based structures in orbit without the volume constraints imposed by launch.

The vision is to transport raw materials from Earth and collect lunar materials for manufacturing in orbit. The NOM4D program does not involve the construction of structures on the surface of the moon. All fabrication would be done in orbital construction facilities and the results would be used in orbital applications.

Current space systems are all designed, built and tested on Earth before being launched into a stable orbit and deployed in their final operational configuration.,” noted Bill Carter, NOM4D Program Manager, DARPA Office of Defense Science. “These constraints are particularly acute for large structures such as solar panels, antennas and optical systems, where size is critical to performance. NOM4D aims to enable a new paradigm where future structures that support DoD space systems are built off-Earth using designs optimized for the space environment, eliminating launch constraints. This would allow for improved capacity, improved robustness, operation in higher orbits and future cislunar applicationcations.

For NOM4D, artists will not launch raw materials into space, collect lunar samples, or build structures in orbit. Any orbital experimentation would occur as part of potential tracking efforts.

The following research teams are under contract to undertake various challenges focusing on two areas listed below:

Materials and manufacturing in space

  • HRL Laboratories, LLC, Malibu, CA, will develop new dieless manufacturing processes to fabricate orbital mechanical elements and orbital bonded structures. The University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, will develop predictive models of materials and correlative processes to enable in-orbit use of laser forming.
  • University of Illinois Urbana-ChampaignChampaign, Illinois, is working to develop a high-precision in-space composite forming process using self-energized frontal polymerization.
  • Physical Sciences, Inc.., Andover, Massachusetts, will develop the continued fabrication of regolith-derived glass-ceramic mechanical structures for use in large-scale orbital applications.
  • Teledyne Scientific Company, LLCThousand Oaks, CA will build a comprehensive material property database of additive-modified regolith for use in precision orbital structures with controlled thermal expansion.

Mass efficient designs for manufacturing in space

  • University of MichiganAnn Arbor, Michigan will explore new approaches to designing mass-efficient, high-precision, stable, and resilient spatial structures based on concepts of metamaterials and metadamping.
  • Opterus Research and Development, Inc.., Loveland, Colo., will develop designs for large-scale, extreme mass-efficiency structures optimized for resilience and mobility.
  • California Institute of TechnologyPasadena, Calif., will design new hybrid tension and bending architectures and structural components with highly anisotropic mechanical response.

During Phase 1, program implementers are tasked with meeting strict structural efficiency targets supporting a megawatt-class solar generator. In Phase 2, teams are tasked with increasing mass efficiency and demonstrating precision manufacturing to radio frequency (RF) reflectors. In the final phase, interpreters are responsible for demonstrating accuracy for infrared (IR) reflectors.

Assuming current trends in space technology continue, in 10 to 20 years we expect to see advancements that will allow the DoD to take full advantage of the technologies and capabilities developed by NOM4D.“, Carter said.”This includes robotic manipulation sufficient to allow assembly of large structures from NOM4D fabricated components, improved in-orbit mobility, and routine refueling of in-orbit assets. We also anticipate several other benefits, including access to space and more affordable LEO launch costs. [low-earth orbit]geo [geosynchronous orbit]cislunar space and beyond.”

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