Race to Kilometer Scale Space Construction

China’s Natural Science Foundation of China has outlined a five-year $2.3 million project to study building over kilometer size objects in orbit.

Kilometer-scale, ultra-large spacecraft are major strategic aerospace equipment for the future use of space resources and colonization.

They will study minimizing the weight of the spacecraft and space structures to reduce the number of launches and construction costs.

NASA has had a decade of several NIAC (NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts) projects studying the construction of massive kilometers scale and larger structures in space.

The main NASA study started Feb 2021. Kilometer-Scale Space Structures from a Single Launch, Zachary Manchester, Carnegie Mellon University.

A high-expansion-ratio auxetic structure can be stowed inside a single Falcon Heavy fairing and deployed to a final length of one kilometer on orbit as part of a large space station. The station can then be spun at 1-2 RPM to generate 1g artificial gravity at its ends while still maintaining a microgravity environment at its center near the spin axis, providing the crew with the flexibility of living in a 1g environment while performing some work in microgravity.
Credits: Zachary Manchester, graphic by Tzipora Thompson.

Long-duration spaceflight poses serious challenges for the human body, including muscle atrophy, bone loss, eyesight degradation, and immunosuppression. Many of these effects are linked to a lack of gravity. Generating artificial gravity inside rotating space habitats has been a dream of science fiction since the earliest pioneers of astronautics. However, rotating to produce artificial gravity poses a serious challenge; Humans experience discomfort and motion sickness when exposed to rotation rates greater than a few RPM. To produce artificial gravity near 1g at rotation rates of 1-2 RPM, a kilometer-scale structure is needed. To address this challenge, we will leverage recent advances in mechanical metamaterials to design lightweight deployable structures with unprecedented expansion ratios of 150x or more. Such a structure could be launched inside a single Falcon Heavy rocket fairing and then be deployed autonomously to a final size of a kilometer or more on orbit without requiring complex on-orbit assembly or fabrication. Our study will analyze a mission concept analogous to the Lunar Gateway, in which a kilometer-scale deployable structure forms the backbone of a large rotating space station.

Tethers Unlimited and other companies are working on construction in space.

Hoyt, Robert* (Phase I)
SpiderFab: Process for On-Orbit Construction of Kilometer-Scale Apertures
Tethers Unlimited, Inc.
Bothell, WA
2012 Phase I

Hoyt, Robert* (Phase II)
SpiderFab: Architecture for On-Orbit Construction of Kilometer-Scale Apertures
Tethers Unlimited, Inc.
Bothell, WA
2013 Phase II

Crowe, Devon
Kilometer Space Telescope (KST)
El Segundo, CA 90245-4501
2018 Phase II

Manchester, Zachary
Kilometer-Scale Space Structures from a Single Launch
Carnegie Mellon University
Pittsburgh, PA 15213-3815
2021 Phase I

Mankins, John
SPS-ALPHA: The First Practical Solar Power Satellite via Arbitrarily Large PHased Array
Artemis Innovation Management Solutions
Santa Maria, California 93456
2011 Phase I

Cash, Webster
The Aragoscope: Ultra-High Resolution Optics at Low Cost
University of Colorado
Boulder, CO 80309-0389
2014 Phase I

Janson, Siegfried
Brane Craft Phase II
The Aerospace Corporation
El Segundo, CA 90245-4609
2017 Phase II

Bae, Young
Propellant-less Spacecraft Formation-Flying and Maneuvering with Photonic Laser Thrusters
Y.K. Bae Corporation
Tustin, CA 92780-7709
2013 Phase II

Bandyopadhyay, Saptarshi
Lunar Crater Radio Telescope (LCRT) on the Far-Side of the Moon
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Pasadena, CA 91109-8001
2021 Phase II

Ritter, Joe* (Phase I)
Ultra-Light “Photonic Muscle” Space Structures
University of Hawaii
Honolulu, HI 96822
2011 Phase I

Ritter, Joe* (Phase II)
OCCAMS: Optically Controlled and Corrected Active Meta-material Space Structures
University of Hawaii
Honolulu, HI 96822
2012 Phase II