Made In Space (MIS) is the leader in manufacturing technologies for the outer space environment and has built an Exploration Manufacturing technology portfolio that contains methods for additive, subtractive, and casting manufacturing processes. However, technology advances and system requirements continue to push the boundaries of what is needed by future space explorers and commercial products.
Beginning with the Additive Manufacturing Facility (AMF), MIS has progressively pursued additional manufacturing processes using the core subsystems of AMF as a baseline. VULCAN, a metal additive and subtractive manufacturing machine, and EMMA, an electronics manufacturing machine, are two programs that are currently underway. AMF, VULCAN, and EMMA provide a basis for pursuing in-space welding and are used to guide MIS from initial systems requirements development, through creating the critical design of this capability.
MIS proposes to develop a Mobile End-effector Laser Device (MELD) capable of on-site, on-demand joining and repair of space structures. MELD is a self-sufficient end-effector that interfaces with a robotic arm and uses the arm for mobility. Key subsystems are directly contained in the end-effector such as power supply, laser system, cooling system, vision system, and avionics. This system is programmed to be autonomous and relies on minimal human interaction, depending on the task. The MELD system provides a tool that applies to many use cases and repair functions that are vital to future long duration exploration missions.
The International Space Station and Lunar Gateway are two large NASA assets that require maintenance due to the environments they are in. Free orbital debris, micrometeorites, and other hazards cause unseen and unplanned damage to the outsides of these habitats and must be considered when human lives are at stake. MELD would be used to remediate any damage that would occur to the external surfaces by either welding over or adding material to the outside of the surface for additional strength and protection.
The autonomy provided by the combination of a robotic arm appendage and MELD provide significant cost benefits to mass production and construction companies. High levels of accuracy and precision are two main principles that must be followed with welding and could potentially be disastrous if not achieved. Welding of car struts, foundation beams, and large construction benefit from using MELD.