A company that aims to build big structures in space has just set a record here on Earth.
California-based Made In Space earned a Guinness World Record for "World’s Longest 3D Printed Nonassembled Piece," company representatives announced Thursday (Feb. 22).
That piece is a beam 123 feet 8.25 inches (37.7 meters) long, and it now hangs from the ceiling at Made In Space's facility in Moffett Field, California, on the campus of NASA's Ames Research Center. [3D Printing in Space: A Photo Gallery]
"We believe that this record is indicative of the transformational work we're doing in space today," Made In Space President and CEO Andrew Rush said in a statement. "Guinness is the most recognized, ultimate global authority in record breaking, and our team couldn't be prouder to receive this recognition for their incredible work. They deserve it."
The machine that printed the record-setting beam will be the 3D printer for Archinaut, a robotic system that Made In Space is developing. Archinaut will also feature robotic arms, allowing the spacecraft to repair satellites and build large structures in Earth orbit, company representatives have said.
This same 3D printer passed a "thermal vacuum" test last summer, successfully printing out parts in a chamber that imposed the temperatures and vacuum of space.
That test was conducted at standard Earth gravity, but Made In Space does have experience manufacturing things in zero-G: The company has launched three separate machines to the International Space Station (ISS). The first two are 3D printers, and the third is a payload that manufactures high-value optical fiber in orbit. If this third machine works as hoped, Made In Space plans to haul space-made fiber down to Earth and sell it, the company has said.
NASA owns one of the Made In Space 3D printers aboard the ISS, and Made In Space owns the other one, operating it as a commercial facility open to a variety of customers.
The use of 3D printing could greatly expand humanity's space-exploration efforts, NASA and other advocates have said. The technology could allow voyaging spacecraft to make what they need on the go, meaning they wouldn't have to carry as many spare parts.
And effective in-space manufacturing could allow much larger and more-delicate space structures to be built than is currently possible, advocates have stressed. For example, Archinaut or similar spacecraft could build huge space telescopes in orbit. At present, such instruments must be compacted greatly for launch, which severely constrains their maximum size.
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Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with Space.com and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.