Building upon its successes developing high-performance component technologies to power the SmallSat revolution, TUI is now developing key technologies to enable a range of in-space services, including: in-space servicing and refueling of satellites, in-space manufacturing of satellite components, in-space assembly of space systems, and in-space networking to support advanced space missions.
Building the infrastructure needed to support a robust and sustainable in-space economy will require robotic systems able to assemble space systems, fix malfunctioning spacecraft, refuel satellites, and deliver cargo from one orbit to another. To meet these needs, TUI is developing the LEO Knight, a microsat-class spacecraft that integrates TUI’s KRAKEN robotic arm along with servicing tools and refueling components. LEO Knight will provide the capability to assemble ESPA-class modules together to form persistent space platforms, capture space debris and transport it to recycling hubs, and refuel and repair small satellites.
TUI is developing technical solutions to enable sustainable in-space manufacturing to support long duration manned missions and the creation of the infrastructure needed for exploration and settlement of our solar system. TUI’s work is addressing the full spectrum of the ‘in-space supply chain’, from how we obtain materials in space, to how we transform those materials into things of value, to how we use components manufactured in space to deliver new services to customers in space and on Earth.
To lower the cost of obtaining material for manufacturing in space, TUI is developing ways to recycle ‘space trash’, such as plastic and metal waste abard the ISS or pieces of spent rockets, to create feedstock for additive and subtractive manufacturing. In 2018, TUI installed a payload called the “Refabricator” aboard the ISS to demonstrate close-cycle recycling and 3D printing of plastic parts, and it is currently working to develop metal recycling and manufacturing technologies for NASA’s “FabLab” system for in-situ precision manufacturing of mission-critical parts.
To enable creation of antennas, solar arrays, and telescopes that are larger than can be fit into a rocket, TUI is currently preparing a flight experiment called “MakerSat”, which will demonstrate in-space manufacture of very large composite structures. Essentially, MakerSat will manufacture carbon-fiber 2-by-4’s that in the future can be used to assemble very large structures to support antennas, solar sails, solar arrays, or even habitats.
In- Space Assembly
To enable development of the next-generation of space systems supporting DoD, NASA, and commercial enterprises, TUI is developing capabilities for in-space assembly of modular space systems. Key technologies in development, including the KRAKEN® robotic arm, AXON™ connector, and DACTYLUS servicing tool, will enable small robotic systems to assemble large space systems, such as telescopes, communications satellites, and even space stations, out of smaller components that can be launched affordably and responsively by taking advantage of small launch vehicles and secondary payload ride opportunities. In-space assembly will enable creation of space systems offering dramatically higher resolution, bandwidth, sensitivity, and power, all at lower cost than traditional ground-built satellite systems.
As the space economy grows, the need for continual, high-throughput data networking will become increasingly important. TUI is building upon its industry-leading SWIFT software defined radio technology to create new capabilities to support networked satellite communications. Among these is SWIFT-LINQ, an IP-based mesh networking solution that enables multiple satellites to easily and rapidly exchange data, providing transformative capabilities for coordinated operations, data relays, and distributed data processing.
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