This was one of the coolest things I had seen in quite sometime in regard to space research. It’s one thing to explore new places and keep humans alive, it’s another thing to use space to benefit those of us still on the planet. Made in Space has been at the forefront of space manufacture with their existing work with 3D printing in space. This new process from Made In Space is far beyond “spare parts” manufacture though and delivers on the promise of the ISS by allowing remote manufacture of products that benefit from microgravity. In this case they are using microgravity to enhance fiber optic manufacture. According to their press release:
Commercial manufacturing of microgravity-enabled optical fiber has enormous potential, both on Earth and for space exploration. The Made In Space Fiber Optics (MIS Fiber) miniature fiber-pulling machine harnesses the unique properties of the microgravity environment to produce an optical fiber orders of magnitude better than what can be produced on Earth.
When produced in a strong gravitational environment, such as Earth, exotic optical fiber is subject to tiny flaws. These crystals appear in the fiber and significantly increase signal loss. When considering data transmission lines such as long-haul communication lines that can span thousands of miles, these flaws cause large enough attenuation of the transmitted light to make the system commercially infeasible. In space, ZBLAN optical fiber can be produced without these crystals, providing superior data transmission capabilities compared to both Earth-produced ZBLAN and traditional silica fiber optic lines. This microgravity-produced fiber has numerous applications, including transatlantic telecommunications, high-speed internet, lasers, as well as enhancing technologies in space.
Of course they’re not the only ones looking into making their product in space, here’s a fun story about Budweiser looking to make beer on Mars!