The extraterrestrial production of the valuable ZBLAN fiber will soon reach Phase 2 if everything goes according to plan.
California-based Made In Space already
manufactures ZBLAN in orbit on four separate occasions, using a microwave machine traveling to and from the International Space Station (ISS) aboard SpaceX Dragon cargo capsules.
The results of these early tests are promising, said Made In Space representatives, so the company intends to
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President and CEO Andrew Rush (left) talks with NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstein at a media event at the Research Center NASA's Amers Nation on Aug. 26, 2019
(Image credit: Space.com/Mike Wall)  "We will launch a slightly larger facility to the space station for about a year or so to produce more materials for both additional exploration and potential sales, "said Andrew Rush, president and CEO of Made In Space, late last month during a media event at NASA's Ames Silicon Valley Research Center, which included a visit NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstein. ("Made In Space" has facilities on the Ames campus.)
"We already have some good leads," Rush added.
One of the main goals of Made In Space is to help establish a stable economy beyond Earth. which in turn could allow humanity
to extend its footprint in the solar system . The company regards the production of ZBLAN as an important early step in this direction.
The material has the potential to be significantly better than traditional silicon-based optical fibers, but difficult to make on Earth because the strong gravity of our planet causes imperfections in the ZBLAN crystal lattice, Made representatives said In Space.
And ZBLAN is both lightweight and valuable, selling for about $ 100 a meter, Rush said. So it can be a good gateway product that demonstrates the commercial viability of off-ground production and allows Made In Space to simultaneously complete a tidy profit.
But the company does not put all its eggs in the ZBLAN basket. Made In Space also launched two ISS 3D printers, one of which, Advanced Manufacturing Facility (AMF), is commercially available.
Another machine is due to appear shortly before the second-generation ZBLAN launcher: Made In Space aims to ship its
plastic recycling to the ISS sometime this fall, Rush said. Recycler will process waste plastics into raw material threads that AMF can use, demonstrating technology that could increase the effectiveness and sustainability of exploration missions.
Then there is Archinaut, the technology for assembling spaceships Made In Space. The system consists of a 3D printer and robotic manipulator weapons, which together can
repair and extend existing satellites and build entirely new orbital structures.
NASA recently awarded $ 73.7 million to Made In Space to give Archinaut its first orbital test. The
Archinaut One Demonstration Mission will launch onboard the rocket lab amplifier as early as 2022.
NASA believes that the return on this investment can be enormous.
"If we can actually produce in space and not produce Earth and start everything, it can be an absolute game changer that enables us as an agency to optimize what we are trying to achieve," Bridenstein said
"Thinking of larger antennas or larger [space telescope] openings or the ability to print things in three dimensions in space and then have a robot assemble these things – these have possibilities that will absolutely change the game for NASA, but also really for our other partners in -American government and commercial industry simultaneously, "he added.
Mike Wall's book on the search for extraterrestrial life, " There " (Grand Central Publisher, 2018; illustrated by Carl Tate ), has already been published. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall . Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook .