NASA is requesting technologies for Advanced Materials and Manufacturing for In-Space Operations. Blueshift, LLC doing business as Outward Technologies proposes to develop an in-space welding process and robotic system for on-orbit service, assembly, and manufacturing (OSAM) of habitats, space telescopes, antennas, solar array reflectors, and a wide range of potential in-space structures. The proposed process and method utilizes concentrated solar energy (CSE) as the primary power source for the welding and joining of metallic and thermoplastic components in space. Benefits of the proposed innovation include a reduction in electrical power requirements compared to current electron beam and arc welding systems designed for OSAM and further power reduction compared to laser welding systems; a lightweight deployable design that minimizes launch costs; precision spot size and energy flux control enabling precision welds on a wide range of materials, material thicknesses, and joint configurations; and a radiation based welding process that enables welding non-conductive materials including thermoplastics and ceramics while reducing the risk of damaging sensitive electronics that may be close to the weld. The Phase I effort will focus on defining a full-scale SO-WARM system, concept of operations for the full-scale system, and associated subsystem requirements including a well-characterized welding testbed; evaluating different solar concentrator configurations based on mass, launch volume, lifetime/durability, and complexity; quantifying full-scale production rate and functional specifications; and demonstration of the solar welding process in an inert atmosphere through a closed-feedback-loop testbed with three aerospace materials including metals and non-metals.
The primary application within NASA’s technology roadmap for SO-WARM is TX12.4: Manufacturing for which the SO-WARM accommodates the desired capabilities outlined in technology candidates TX12.4.1 for in-space fabrication, assembly, and repair. Secondarily, SO-WARM fits into TX13.2: Test and Qualification. SO-WARM can be incorporated into several NASA in-space construction efforts such as OSAM-1, OSAM-2, the lunar Gateway, and the ISS. It can also be used as a free-flying module, servicing satellites and structures as needed on-orbit.
There are several applications of the proposed solar welding technology that will benefit the DoD, NSF, and other federal agencies interested in advanced manufacturing techniques. These include a solar welder for use in remote locations on Earth and by underserved communities who may not have access to established infrastructure.