Under a contract with satellite maker Space Systems Loral, Tethers’ Unlimited will provide hardware to manufacture in space parts of a communications satellite, using its technology for building lightweight truss-like structures that are 3D-printed and fabricated by a robot.

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Bothell-based space engineering company Tethers Unlimited has secured a contract to prepare for a test in Earth orbit of its technology for robotic, in-space manufacturing of satellite components.

The contract with satellite maker Space Systems Loral (SSL) requires Tethers to provide hardware to manufacture in space parts of a communications satellite.

Tethers founder and CEO Rob Hoyt said the contract is in phases, with the initial preparatory stage worth millions of dollars. If it progresses to the flight phase, the project will run to tens of millions of dollars, he said.

The technology builds lightweight truss-like structures that are 3D-printed and fabricated by a spiderlike robot.

“We really like to push the boundary of what is science fiction versus science reality,” says Rob Hoyt. His company Tethers Unlimited is part of a growing community of small space businesses in Greater Seattle. (Lauren Frohne / The Seattle Times)

The structures can be used to support antennas, sensors, solar arrays, and other key satellite components.

Manufacturing such structures after the satellite has reached orbit would allow these components to be significantly larger than if they had to be stowed within a rocket shroud. Increased size enables higher data throughput, higher power and better performance than achievable by satellites manufactured entirely on the ground.

Tethers’s manufacturing hardware will fly as part of SSL’s “Dragonfly” program to demonstrate in-space robotic assembly of geostationary satellites.

The Dragonfly program is funded under NASA’s Tipping Point initiative to advance industry technology for robotic and human space exploration.