Advanced engineering and development company Magna Parva has produced a prototype in-orbit manufacturing system that should provide a method of producing huge carbon composite 3D structures in space. A prototype COPMA system has been successfully built and tested under ‘near space’ conditions at Magna Parva’s Leicester development facility.
It demonstrates the potential for the production of assemblies, equipment or even buildings from fully cured and consolidated carbon fibre materials, potentially miles in length. Magna Parva’s innovative technology enables the deployment of extremely large, repeatable, composite structures. Radio antennae, synthetic aperture radar systems and radio / optical interferometers are examples of items that are feasible to make in space using the COPMA system.
The new precision robotic technology manufactures 3D space structures using a supply of carbon fibres and a resin that are processed by pultrusion through a heat forming die in a continuous process, producing cured carbon composite elements of extraordinary length. As the resin and materials behave differently in space, the development has included testing under both ambient atmospheric and vacuum conditions. While pultrusion itself is an established manufacturing process, it has now been scaled down to a size where the equipment can be accommodated on spacecraft and further work is under way to advance the technical readiness of the concept.
COPMA stands for ‘Consolidated Off Planet Manufacturing and Assembly System for Large Space Structures’, and allows the fabrication in space of large structures that would be difficult to produce on Earth due to limitations at launch. Current pre-manufactured structures designed to go into space are high in mass and volume and have specific launch environment requirements. By manufacturing in space, many of these requirements are eliminated, allowing the production and deployment of extremely large composite structures. They can be made much thinner, larger and use less material than they would need if terrestrially produced, avoiding the rigours of launch.
“The COPMA system is potentially an effective solution to the challenge of deploying huge structures in space”, said Andrew Bowyer, Commercial Director of Magna Parva. “Our experience of developing practical solutions for space applications has been essential to understanding how best to deploy this new technology.”