The Importance of Spacecraft Mfg

spacecraft mfg

Spacecraft manufacturing involves creating the structure that holds together all the other parts of a spacecraft. This requires using techniques such as casting, drawing, forging, and machining metals to construct its frame.

On-orbit manufacturing can benefit a range of missions, such as astronomy, Earth observation, navigation and communications. Benefits may include increased science return, mission resilience and reconfigurability plus reduced costs.


Fabrication involves producing all of the parts needed to assemble and test a spacecraft, either on Earth or space. Once complete, these parts must then be assembled, integrated and tested by an authorized manufacturer in order to comply with all relevant standards and regulations.

Space environments should offer unique fabrication opportunities due to microgravity and vacuum, which enable the fabrication of materials not manufactured on Earth, supporting long-duration space missions by decreasing material launch requirements from Earth, as well as extracting raw materials from other astronomical bodies in space without having to transport them through Earth’s atmosphere.

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Some components and systems of spacecraft cannot be assembled on Earth without incurring significant penalties in terms of performance and cost. Ultrathin mirrors, gossamer structures, reflectors, trusses and panels may become warped due to vibrations and acceleration loads; as a result they must be hardened prior to launch, an expensive process.

On-orbit assembly provides an effective solution to these challenges. By developing on-orbit manufacturing capabilities using teleoperation, robotics, and autonomy technologies based on on-orbit manufacturing, costs could be drastically reduced. Furthermore, the ability to reuse unwanted parts into feedstock would reduce total mass and improve resilience.

Astrophysics and Department of Defense missions would benefit greatly from on-orbit assembly of large telescopes for instrument with larger apertures than can fit within current launch vehicles, and for specialized DOD sensors with resolutions exceeding civilian satellite capabilities. Both these applications are being actively pursued via programs funded by NASA and DARPA.


Manufacturing goods in space enables long-duration space exploration missions and future colonization beyond Earth. This technology, also known as In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU), enables astronauts to produce tools and supplies on demand in space rather than having to transport them from Earth, thus decreasing cost of travel and making long-distance expeditions more sustainable. ISRU can also be used to extract raw materials from distant astronomical bodies before processing them into usable products for shipment back home.

One of the best examples of spacecraft manufacturing is the International Space Station, constructed as part of a joint effort among several countries and companies. Equipped with a materials processing facility that allowed crew members to conduct experiments such as molten metal processing; photo-documentation of ignited metallurgical reactions; crystal growth; processing and brazing of immiscible alloys; electron beam welding – ultimately leading to larger factories capable of manufacturing propellants, repair parts for spacecraft, as well as rotating habitats capable of housing large numbers of people.


Space presents technology with unique challenges. From launch forces and temperature fluctuations during orbital conditions, to debris floating about in orbit and debris accumulations, hardware must be resilient enough to endure these forces and continue operating as desired.

Acoustic testing is an essential element of spacecraft production to ensure that launch noise (an average of 146dB inside the launcher’s fairing) does not damage or compromise payload or mission objectives. Acoustic chamber testing utilises modulators and horns for this purpose.

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