Tethers Unlimited’s “SpiderFab” could address one of the most difficult parts about constructing satellites, space stations or other orbiting objects: getting the materials into space. Most existing space structures have to be built on Earth. But SpiderFab could construct parts of structures similarly to how spiders build their webs.

The multi-limbed robot could be deployed in space and would be able to lay out and fuse together carbon fiber rods from a spinneret, crawling along its web of trusses until it creates the final object. Instead of sending complete structures into space, rockets could fill their payloads with raw materials, which could then be built out by the SpiderFab up in orbit. This would mean more materials could be taken up by one ship. For example, a complete radio antenna would take up more space than the flat-packed sheets of carbon fiber required to build it.

Tethers Unlimited’s CEO, Bob Hoyt, envisions robots being used in space “to construct the infrastructure in space needed to support humanity’s expansion throughout the solar system,” in addition to space agencies using it to build things like solar panel arrays, radio antennas and telescope parts.

Tether Unlimited received funding from NASA for this and a range of other projects and is working on having a prototype of the SpiderFab ready by this summer, with the intention of launching a functioning spider into space in a few years. One day, an army of spiders could be used to create the space stations of tomorrow.