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Orbital Manufacturer 'Made in Space' Gets $73 Million NASA Contract

Science fiction have been thinking about whether or not it would be possible to do messy manufacturing in space, possibly in orbit. Arthur C. Clarke suggested orbiting factories in his admirable 1978 novel The Fountains of Paradise:

"...What is it?"

"The result of two hundred years of solid-state physics. For whatever good that does, it is a continuous pseudo-one dimensional diamond crystal - though it's not actually pure carbon. There are several trace elements in carefully controlled amounts. It can be mass-produced only in the orbiting factories, where there's no gravity to interfere with the growth process."

Fans of William Gibson may recall that he mentioned automated space factories in his 1988 novel Mona Lisa Overdrive.

NASA recently awarded a $73.7 million dollar contract to Made in Space after a successful effort to manufacture optical fiber in orbit.

Made in Space is one of the most intriguing companies in aerospace because it's not so much focused on getting into space. Rather, the company is focused on doing interesting, meaningful, and potentially profitable things once there. Its long-term goal is to build factories in space using additive manufacturing.

A recent NASA contract, worth $73.7 million, will allow Made in Space to significantly accelerate those efforts. "For us, this is one of those watershed moments that take this technology and propel it into the next stage," said Andrew Rush, president and chief executive officer... Made in Space started the year with 40 employees and will end it with nearly 100.

The NASA contract will fund the company to build and fly a spacecraft it calls Archinaut One, with the aim of constructing two 10-meter solar arrays in orbit. These two arrays will power an ESPA-class satellite. (These are fairly small satellites, about 200kg, that are typically carried as secondary payloads by large rockets such as the Falcon 9 booster built by SpaceX.)

The basic idea is that, if Archinaut One can manufacture its own solar arrays in space—rather than having to fold them in a cumbersome way inside a payload fairing—they can be much larger than those on a typical ESPA-class satellite. Instead of a few hundred watts of power, therefore, a small satellite might be able to have as much as five to eight times that amount to work with.

The first efforts to implement (or at least experiment) with creating materials in orbit occurred in the early 1970's, during the Skylab mission (which was launched in 1973).

Via ArsTechnica and Made in Space.

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