When humans travel to Mars, they'll need big but lightweight spacecrafts to get there. The lighter the rocket, the more crew, equipment, and food you can take with you on the long-haul mission to the Red Planet.
To achieve this aim, NASA is currently experimenting with a new giant manufacturing robot that spins composite, lightweight rocket parts from carbon fibre.
The 21-foot robotic arm is based at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama, and works by shooting out hair-thin carbon fibres from 16 spools as it travels up and down a 40-foot track. The carbon fibres are heated as they're released to create intricate patterns that make up the composite space rocket parts. Researchers want the robot to be able to build structures larger than eight meters in diameter. The robot's head (the part of the robotic arm that holds the spools) can also be changed, allowing it to be used in different manufacturing projects.
"These new robotic fiber placement tools are game changers because they can drastically reduce the cost and improve the quality of large space structures," said John Vickers, the manager for NASA's National Center for Advanced Manufacturing, in a press statement.
Lightweight composite rockets will allow astronauts to increase the payload on their spacecrafts, and NASA wants to find out if composite manufacturing could eventually be used in everything from spacecrafts to rovers and landers in the future.