There’s plenty of carbon fiber in space right now. 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.