NASA has one of the most advanced composite manufacturing robots ever created in America. The robot will be used to build the biggest, lightweight composite parts ever made for space vehicles.
This latest addition to the Marshall Space Flight Center’s Composites Technology Center in Alabama will low-cost and high-speed composite manufacturing for large composite rocket. The structures this robot will be building will determine whether these special space vehicles are fit and safe for carrying humans on exploration missions to Mars and other places.
The robot’s key purpose is to build the lightest rocket possible. A lighter rocket carries more crew, science instruments, food, equipment and habitats. Lightweight composites have the potential to increase the amount of payload that can be carried by a rocket and lower the total production cost. NASA is conducting composite manufacturing technology tests to determine whether composites can be used to make units for the Space Launch System and other exploration spacecrafts and habitats.
The robot will build structures larger than 26 feet in diameter, some of the largest composite structures ever constructed for space vehicles. NASA’s robot is making huge industrial advances in composite manufacturing for space exploration and increasing affordability of space vehicles.
To make large composite structures, the robot travels along a 40-foot long track, and a head at the end of its 21-foot robot arm articulates in multiple directions. The head can hold up to 16 spools of carbon fibers that look like pieces of tape and are as thin as human hairs. The robot is able to place the fibers onto a tooling surface in precise patterns to form different large structures of varying shapes and sizes. The robot head can be changed for different projects, which makes the system flexible and usable for various types of composite manufacturing.
The first project that the robot will tackle is making large composite structures for a Technology Demonstration Mission by Marshall for the Space Technology Mission Directorate. For the project, engineers will design, build, test and address flight certification of large composite structures similar to those that might be upgraded for an evolved Space Launch System.
NASA is also a partner with the National/Interagency Advanced Manufacturing Initiative and will share its data with American companies to open up the marketplace for increased use of composite manufacturing in every industry.
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