Thanks, jhankwitz, for the enthusiasm and suggestions about how this might be implemented. When you say "managed by a few people" I assume you mean remotely, correct? One open question is just how autonomous the SpiderFab robot will be.
This is a great idea. Creating a 3D manufacturing plant in space could certainly enable production of components that can't now be launched due to size and structure. Parts currently need to be able to withstand launch vibration and size restrictions. Having a manufacturing plant stabilized with gyros and flywheels, managed by a few people, and powered by sunlight would be a giant step forward.
One phrase in this story jumped out at me: "kilometer-scale systems." If you imagine a 1-km structure here on earth, it's mind-bloggling. I wonder how long it would take to build kilometer-scale systems with 3D printers.
Great questions, 78RPM. How the robot navigates and stabilizes itself was not described anywhere. I suspect that may not have been worked out yet, or that it's related to how the Tresselator functions. Such problems have already been worked out for the (attached-to-the-ISS) Canadarm, which we've written about here: http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1392&doc_id=267732
It would seem like the movement of the arms would create torque that would rotate or move the robot relative to the part it's printing. How does it stabilize itself when printing and fastening those thin parts? Does it have anything like jet packs? Does it have flywheels like an image-steady camera lens?
Festo's BionicKangaroo combines pneumatic and electrical drive technology, plus very precise controls and condition monitoring. Like a real kangaroo, the BionicKangaroo robot harvests the kinetic energy of each takeoff and immediately uses it to power the next jump.
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