NASA to Fund Made in Space Project to Develop In-space Laser Welding System

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA has selected Made in Space for a small business award to develop a system capable of autonomously welding structures in space.

The Mobile End-Effector Laser Device (MELD) would be capable of welding “aerospace-grade metals to assemble large, stable structures on-orbit or on the lunar or Martian surface. These include trusses, arrays, habitats, and pressure vessels,” according to the proposal summary.

“Almost as important, MELD repairs existing structures damaged by micrometeorites or orbital debris without human intervention,” the summary added.

The company will received a phase II grant of up to $750,000 under NASA’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. The space agency previously awarded the company a smaller phase I grant for the project.

Made in Space said the autonomous welding system could be used in a number of NASA programs, including the Artemis initiative to land astronauts on the moon in 2024.

“The welding ability of MELD is a valuable addition to the multitude of ongoing or upcoming satellite servicing and repair missions including the DARPA Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites (RSGS) mission, and the Northrop Grumman Mission Robotic Vehicle (MRV),” Made in Space said.

The proposal summary follows.

Mobile End-Effector Laser Device (MELD)
Subtopic: Development of Mobile Welding Capabilities for In-Space Manufacturing

Made in Space, Inc.
Jacksonville, FL

Principal Investigator
Brandon Kirkland

Estimated Technology Readiness Level (TRL) :
Begin: 4
End: 5

Technical Abstract

In-space welding is a valuable manufacturing technology for long duration, long endurance space missions. The Mobile End-effector Laser Device (MELD) is a groundbreaking laser welding system from Made In Space, Inc. (MIS).

MELD autonomously welds aerospace-grade metals to assemble large, stable structures on-orbit or on the lunar or Martian surface. These include trusses, arrays, habitats, and pressure vessels. Almost as important, MELD repairs existing structures damaged by micrometeorites or orbital debris without human intervention. MELD offers the only welding and repair system capable of functioning in conditions such as reduced pressure, microgravity, and intense radiation.

MELD is a fully functional system containing a laser welding end effector and subsystems including power, cooling, communications, verification and validation, and a foreign object debris collection mechanism.

In Phase I, the MELD end effector successfully welded aluminum, stainless steel, titanium, and Inconel alloys. In Phase II, MIS proposes to build a vacuum rated end effector, refine and build optimized subsystems for the relevant testing environment, and continue testing welding both at ambient and in vacuum.

Success criteria is the fabrication of welds of correct geometry without cracking or voids. Ground testing includes tensile, hardness, and helium leak testing according to ASTM standards.

MIS has extensive experience in developing in-space manufacturing capabilities. MIS has operated multiple payloads on the International Space Station and is currently working on Archinaut, a NASA Tipping Point project, developing a satellite for autonomous in-space manufacturing and assembly. MELD with its welding ability fits well into Archinaut and other MIS efforts to revolutionize living and working in space.

Potential NASA Applications

MELD is platform agnostic and benefits several NASA missions. Artemis is one direct mission set that MELD can be utilized upon. When developing the lunar gateway, future habitats on the surface, or exploration vehicles, MELD provides a means for manufacturing and assembling structural segments of each of these.

MELD could also be used after the system has been completed to repair or augment the systems with additional supports, patching micrometeroid damage, or adding of functional structures such as antennas or solar array segments.

Potential Non-NASA Applications

The welding ability of MELD is a valuable addition to the multitude of ongoing or upcoming satellite servicing and repair missions including the DARPA Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites (RSGS) mission, and the Northrop Grumman Mission Robotic Vehicle (MRV). As part of these missions, MELD repairs structural damage or welds propulsion or power structures to a damaged vehicle.

Duration: 24 months