As a naturally clean vacuum with extreme temperatures and an absence of night, space offers a unique environment for manufacturing, and utilising these conditions enables the creation of superior quality materials, unique structures, and innovative products.
In addition to taking advantage of these optimum conditions, in-space manufacturing capability could enable longer and more sustainable exploration missions, with on-demand manufacturing of spare parts and tools as required, or more simply put, replacing the parts that were either broken or in some cases forgotten!
Despite how futuristic the notion of manufacturing in space might sound, it has been done for some time.
The Wake Shield Facility (WSF) was a science platform run by NASA which deployed a robotic arm in front of the shuttle which created an ultra-vacuum behind it. This was used to create semiconductors including gallium arsenide, pharmaceuticals, and other composites.
Following this, the International Space Station (ISS) came online which focused on life sciences including pharmaceuticals, protein crystals, and drug development.
One of the biggest breakthroughs in the history of in-space manufacturing came from Made In Space, who produced a fibre optic cable that was 100 times more efficient than anything that can be produced on Earth, commonly known as ZBLAN, a fluoride glass optical fiber. This glass fiber offers a significant improvement for transmission of data due to its incredibly clear and bubble-free structure and there is not a terrestrial equivalent that can match its performance.
Organisations with current or developing technologies for in-space manufacturing include Space Forge, an early-stage start-up developing reusable manufacturing satellites, and Bartolomeo, a platform on the International Space Station that enables the hosting of external payloads in low-Earth orbit.
On 15 July 2020, the Satellite Applications Catapult and the Compound Semiconductor Applications Catapult hosted a webinar to explore the opportunities that space presented for manufacturing activity.
The event, which took place during the first-ever Wales Technology Week, featured a variety of speakers with expertise on manufacturing in space and highlighted the massive opportunity that space presents as ‘The New Manufacturing Frontier’.
Throughout the webinar, the below speakers from across the space and manufacturing industry gave an overview of the opportunities that space presents for manufacturing and how the sector could grow in the future.
The in-space manufacturing webinar was a huge success, thank you to everyone that joined us and engaged with the speakers – we look forward to hosting more webinars over the coming months, and will have a follow up webinar highlighting some the new products being developed today in space, for the benefit of those on Earth as well in space.
As an area that we as a country are at the forefront of, in-space manufacturing offers a significant opportunity for the UK as a field to be leaders in, many companies in this space are currently seeking private investment.
If the environment space offers could give an advantage for the manufacture of a product you make or aspire to make – we can help facilitate introductions with the right people to make to happen and provide technical advice regarding access to space and testing capabilities.
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