We’ve gotten used to astronauts from all sorts of countries heading into orbit and visiting one of the several space stations there. And we’re also hardly excited when yet another multi-millionaire and their friends launch on a sub-orbital flip, or ride SpaceX around the planet. But there’s another industry that’s booming in space.
It’s Zero-G Manufacturing – making stuff in space, or in orbit at least.
That’s not as crazy as it sounds. You’re probably thinking: Why send materials into orbit at great expense and then bring them back, when you could do the same thing right here on Earth? But launch costs are getting cheaper and cheaper, and there are unique advantages to making things in microgravity.
Specialized products like bioprinted organs, ultra-pure fiber optics and defect-free large crystals can only be made or grown in an environment where there’s no gravity to disturb the process. Nanodiamonds and 2D materials like graphene can be more precisely controlled in zero-g conditions.
High-performance superconductors and quantum computer chips are also easier to produce at scale, while alloys made from different density materials in solution won’t settle out during production. And if you need a hard vacuum, space has it in abundance!
Needless to say, these are all high value, specialized components and products, which justifies the expense of launching the materials and machinery into orbit. But as space factories become more numerous and accessible, we can expect demand to increase, and new discoveries are likely, that could truly change the world.
And of course, the next lunar lander or Mars mothership could be constructed in space itself. Using 3D printing techniques and robotic assembly, spaceships far bigger than anything that can be launched from the surface will just be made in space.
Image credit: Axiom