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This Robot Spins Carbon Fiber Threads into Rocket Parts

This Robot Spins Carbon Fiber Threads into Rocket Parts

When one robot leaves the world, another enters it.

There’s plenty of carbon fiber in space right now, from nose cones to rover parts. It’s the best bet we have for making spacecraft lighter—and it’s going to be key on deep space missions where every gram of food, water, and fuel is carefully planned. But making these parts isn’t easy, or cheap. Prototyping and testing new carbon fiber designs is slow, expensive, and labor-intensive. And as NASA pushes towards putting humans into deep space, it will need to make huge leaps in manufacturing to develop the spacecraft capable of these long, distant journeys.

This summer, NASA got a tool that will make prototyping those parts way easier. It’s a 21-foot robotic arm whose head is made up of 16 rods that look like oversized sewing spools, attached to a long, 40-foot track that allows the robotic arm to slide around a model.

This Robot Spins Carbon Fiber Threads into Rocket Parts

Wrapped around the spools are carbon fiber threads, which are unwound as the arm “sculpts” a composite part designed by NASA’s engineers. It’s one of the largest composite robots ever made, and can build objects as wide as 26 feet, which means they’re “some of the largest composite structures ever constructed for space vehicles,” according to Justin Jackson, an engineer on the project.

This Robot Spins Carbon Fiber Threads into Rocket Parts

The printer was built by a company called Electroimpact, which is responsible for developing the technology that layers super-thin carbon fibers into permanent forms. Their machines are elaborate, very expensive affairs—with spool heads that almost recall the spinning rooms of 19th century textile mills.

This Robot Spins Carbon Fiber Threads into Rocket Parts

This Robot Spins Carbon Fiber Threads into Rocket Parts

The company calls this process automated fiber placement, and it’s a big step for carbon fiber composites because the arm can create complex shapes very quickly. This means NASA can “drastically reduce the cost and improve the quality of large space structures,” as project manager John Vickers puts it in a release today.

Electroimpact helped NASA customize its own arm, and now it’s poised to begin its life helping the agency develop craft at Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama. The idea is “to build and test these structures to determine if they are a good fit for space vehicles that will carry humans on exploration missions to Mars and other places,” says the space center’s Preston Jones.

Of course, the robot will help build other stuff too—like pieces of clean rooms. Carbon fiber is getting cheaper and more high-quality by the day, and eventually, the design work being done here at Marshall could find its way into our every-day lives. For now, it’s cool to know that from this oversized printing bed, the next generation of spacecraft may slowly emerge.


Contact the author at kelsey@Gizmodo.com.

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Want To Make An Impact With Your Work? Try Some Advice From 80,000 Hours

job fair People in the tech world like to talk about doing great things — but what does that actually mean for your career? If you’re serious about making a positive impact on the world, should you go work for a startup? A nonprofit? Or none of the above? 80,000 Hours is an organization aiming to help with those decisions. It’s a nonprofit in the current class of startups incubated by… Read More

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#ILookLikeAnEngineer Gets Its Own Photo Generator

#ILookLikeAnEngineer Gets Its Own Photo Generator

A little upgrade for a big hashtag.

The post #ILookLikeAnEngineer Gets Its Own Photo Generator appeared first on WIRED.


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9 Things Every Fallout Fan Has to Have in Their Vault

The best toys and merchandise you can find that’ll help spruce up your vault or gear, whatever suits you.

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Naomi dives back into the latest installment in the FNAF series and get’s so scared by Freddy and friends that she hurts herself.

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Quantum Break Release Date Revealed – IGN News

Microsoft reveal release date and cast news for Quantum Break at Gamescom 2015.

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Reigate Grammar School Computing Department

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