Space allows for certain conditions that would impossible to replicate on Earth–above all, microgravity which allows us to build products without the supports that would be required on Earth. We can achieve optimal designs and even create things that would be impossible to build due to Earth's gravity. Microgravity also allows materials to uniformly mix, reducing impurities. This can be achieved to an even higher degree when conducted in a vacuum. For example, fiber optics, protein crystals, and even metal alloys were created in a small, electric oven aboard the ISS.
Perhaps the most practical example that we have seen to date was built by the US company Made in Space, They created the Additive Manufacturing Facility, a 3D printer installed in the ISS in order to build parts and test new ideas and concepts concerning manufacturing in microgravity. Yet their plans are far more ambitious; they are partnering with Northrop Grumman and Oceaneering Space Systems to develop Archinaut. This module would be mounted on the exterior of the ISS and would be able to manufacture, assemble and repair structures and machines. In addition to a 3D printer, the module would possess three robotic arms for manipulating the pieces that it builds.
The main roadblock is that sending raw materials into orbit remains quite costly. Therefore, it is difficult to justify these processes. However, as launches become cheaper in the future and–even further down the line–we are able to extract raw materials from asteroids, things may change.
According to the IDA study, manufacturing in space could generate roughly 320 million euros per year. However, this figure is quite speculative, given that very little has taken place to date. In fact, this figure stems from the hypothetical construction and launch into orbit of a private space station that would be up and running as early as midway through the 2020 decade.
Manufacturing in space can reach a market of more than 300 million € per year.
How can the space industry solve the problems of tomorrow?
Conference by Jason Dunn, Co Founder and Director Made In Space, at the XXXI Future Trends Forum about the Commercialization of Space
Jason Dunn explains how technology and the pace of growth have changed and wonders how the space industry can solve tomorrow's problems and not just today's or yesterday's.
Space Industry Applications
Manufacture products in orbit.
Carry out scientific and technical research in space.
Observe the behaviour of the Earth
Facilitate the communication on Earth.
Defend the Earth´s safety from space.
Extract new materials in space.
Create new drugs in space.
Create space tourism activities.
Create new ways of reaching space.