In-Space Manufacturing Up Next on the Tech Docket?

To say that the world is preoccupied with the concept of space exploration would be an understatement. The search for a habitable planet as well as the possibility of private space travel has thrilled people around the world for decades. Now, we are seeing a very real push toward innovating within the realm of outer space in different ways. Most recently, there has been a push to bring manufacturing off of our planet and into outer space. Does this sound like something out of the movies? It absolutely does, but it is real. The project is being developed by a company from California called Made in Space. The goal for Made in Space was to create a small, functional factory that could be dragged into outer space. Let’s dig in and see why this is so important and what it could mean for the future of manufacturing.

Made in Space developed a small, self-contained factory that would develop optical fiber while in orbit. The machine is roughly the size of a microwave and it will be producing ZBLAN optical product. Made in Space partnered with SpaceX, specifically their Dragon Cargo capsule, and the factory will be towed to space on December 12th, 2017 on board the rocket. If Made in Space and SpaceX are able to successfully partner up for this venture, it could mark a huge diversion in the way that manufacturing is pursued.

For those not in the know, Made in Space isn’t exactly a fresh face to the space scene. Made in Space developed a 3D printer and they released it back in 2014 into the International Space Station, or ISS. Their goal was basically to prove that their technology could be utilized in space and, finally, they were proven correct. After this initial test, Made in Space developed a commercial version of the 3D printer called the Additive Manufacturing Facility (AMF) which was handed over to the ISS back in 2016.

The reason that Made in Space is pursuing space-based manufacturing is simple, they can improve the quality of their product in these atmospheric conditions. Made in Space’s primary representative wrote, “In space, ZBLAN optical fiber can be produced without these crystals (flaws), providing superior data-transmission capabilities.” The crystals that are referenced above are known as a design flaw due to the high-gravity environment that manufacturing on Earth is beholden to. Could Made in Space be on to the next big thing in manufacturing