Made in Space Selected for 2 NASA SBIR Awards

NASA has selected two proposals from Made in Space focused on producing advanced crystals and high-strength components for funding under the space agency’s Small Business Innovation Research program. Each two-year Phase II is worth up to $750,000.

The Industrial Crystallization Facility (ICF) would produce “nonlinear optical single crystals and other relatively large material formulations, such as bulk single-crystal thin films and high temperature optical fiber,” according to the proposal.

“The ICF is focused on advanced materials engineering, rather than biomedical research, and expands utilization of the ISS into new product areas not previously investigated,” the proposal added.

The company said the crystals would be used in laser range finding, photonic gyroscopes, spectroscopy, optical communications, automotive-safety systems, medical equipment, video security and surveillance networks, human-recognition user interfaces, and other embedded image collection devices.

“This is a critical next step in the development of Low Earth Orbit as an economic development zone,” the application states. “ICF uses the International Space Station (ISS) National Lab as a proving ground and utilizes the same value proposition as the forthcoming Made In Space Fiber (MIS Fiber) demonstration of manufacturing a product in space with economically-significant intrinsic value on the ground.”

Made in Space is also developing the VULCAN Advanced Hybrid Manufacturing System to meet NASA’s need “to produce high-strength, high-precision polymer and metallic components on-orbit with comparable quality to commercially-available, terrestrial machined and inspected parts,” the proposal stated.

“The VULCAN technology is primarily intended for sustaining human spaceflight operations, first on the ISS and, later, on long-duration missions to the Moon, Mars, or other destinations in the Solar System,” the proposal added.

Made in Space also sees military applications for the VULCAN.

“A tactical version of the VULCAN device gives the DoD a modular, common manufacturing system deployable on mobile platforms, such as submarines, destroyers, transport aircraft, and trucks, and in fixed locations with limited external support, such as Forward Operating Bases and advance airfields,” the proposal said.

Summaries of the proposals are below.

Industrial Crystallization Facility for Nonlinear Optical Materials
Subtopic: ISS Utilization and Microgravity Research

Made in Space, Inc.
Wilmington, DE

Principal Investigator/Project Manager
Michael Snyder

Estimated Technology Readiness Level (TRL) at beginning and end of contract:
Begin: 3
End: 6

Technical Abstract

Made In Space, Inc. (MIS) proposes the development, to a critical design level, of an Industrial Crystal Facility (ICF) for microgravity product manufacturing and applied research. The ICF is focused on advanced materials engineering, rather than biomedical research, and expands utilization of the ISS into new product areas not previously investigated. Intended applications include nonlinear optical single crystals and other relatively large material formulations, such as bulk single-crystal thin films and high temperature optical fiber.

This is a critical next step in the development of Low Earth Orbit as an economic development zone. ICF uses the International Space Station (ISS) National Lab as a proving ground and utilizes the same value proposition as the forthcoming Made In Space Fiber (MIS Fiber) demonstration of manufacturing a product in space with economically-significant intrinsic value on the ground.

Semiorganic nonlinear optical (NLO) crystals generated from low temperature solution methods have only emerged in the past decade of academic research as an alternative to industry standards, such as lithium niobate, for improved performance and easier integration into opto-electronic devices. Lithium niobate single crystals must be manufactured by the Czochralski process, at temperatures in excess of 1260°C, which makes it energy-intensive to produce. Even with doping, lithium niobate products are typically limited to operate below 200°C or require active thermal control to limit photorefractive damage that distorts photon transmission.

Microgravity production holds the potential for room-temperature production of NLO materials for high-energy applications with size and quality undiminished by the effects of sedimentation and convection. A new facility is needed to explore the feasibility of microgravity-enabled industrial crystals as a new product market for Low Earth Orbit.

Potential NASA Commercial Applications

In the civil sector, including NASA, photonic device applications include laser range finding, photonic gyroscopes, spectroscopy, and optical communications. For example, the upcoming Laser Communications Relay Demonstration on the ISS, called ILLUMA, relies on a first-of-its-kind integrated photonics circuit to transmit and encode data at orders of magnitude higher rates than traditional digital systems.

Future integrated photonics circuits can be lithographically printed on large single optical crystals, much as integrated microelectronic circuits are lithographically printed on semiconductor crystals today.

Potential Non-NASA Commercial Applications

CMOS image sensors go into new automotive-safety systems, medical equipment, video security and surveillance networks, human-recognition user interfaces, and other embedded image collection devices. The growth in laser transmitter demand is driven by ever-increasing Internet traffic, cloud services, and the expected dramatic leap in network load from billions of Internet of Things connections.

This sub-market is particularly complimentary to the Made In Space program for ZBLAN optical fiber production. ZBLAN optical fiber manufactured in microgravity has both a lower attenuation rate and a wider transmission window than traditional silica fiber. While fiber produced on-orbit can be used to increase the efficiency of existing fiber networks, it can also support higher-output transmitters that utilize microgravity-grown nonlinear optical crystals to exceed the material limits of silica fiber.

One high impact application that NLO crystals are ideally suited to is the efficient production of UV light by second harmonic generation (SHG). A high efficiency conversion could potentially take incoherent light and produce UV from a low energy source such as an LED.

Several inorganic NLO materials have transparency in the UV range including BPO4, which has a lower range of 130 nm. This would be a game changing system for medical and industrial UV applications such as lithography and machining. Another important application is efficient measurement of terahertz wave sensors.

Technology Taxonomy Mapping

  • Ceramics
  • Materials & Structures (including Optoelectronics)
  • Nanomaterials
  • Organics/Biomaterials/Hybrids
  • Processing Methods
  • Waveguides/Optical Fiber (see also Optics)

The VULCAN Advanced Hybrid Manufacturing System
Subtopic: In-Space Manufacturing of Precision Parts

Made in Space, Inc.
Wilmington, DE

Principal Investigator/Project Manager
Michael Snyder

Estimated Technology Readiness Level (TRL) at beginning and end of contract:
Begin: 3
End: 6

Technical Abstract

Building on previously funded work by NASA and DARPA, its internal research and development projects, and manufacturing activities occurring on the International Space Station (ISS), Made In Space, Inc. (MIS) is developing the VULCAN system to address NASA’s requirement to produce high-strength, high-precision polymer and metallic components on-orbit with comparable quality to commercially-available, terrestrial machined and inspected parts.

Such capability enables the in-situ manufacturing of critical parts for human and robotic spaceflight and without dependence on terrestrial resupply. MIS combines spaceflight-proven microgravity process controls and payload support systems, such as environmental and thermal controls, with a modular manufacturing and post processing system that generates a net shape final product.

Potential NASA Commercial Applications

The VULCAN technology is primarily intended for sustaining human spaceflight operations, first on the ISS and, later, on long-duration missions to the Moon, Mars, or other destinations in the Solar System.

MIS has built industry alliances with such companies as Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Orbital ATK, Sierra Nevada Corporation, and Bigelow Aerospace to evaluate the optimal concept of operations for in-space manufacturing as an enabling technology for the NextSTEP Cislunar Habitat. MIS is also working with UTC Aerospace Systems and Paragon to develop ECLSS design principles for repair and replenishment by in-space manufacturing.

Robotic expeditionary missions can also employ the VULCAN technology for autonomous repairs while building the infrastructure preceding human habitation. Local robots may retrieve and install VULCAN-generated parts automatically or via teleoperation. Such capability may be necessary to ensure continuity of operations without direct human intervention and enable human crews to focus on mission objectives.

Potential Non-NASA Commercial Applications

The Department of Defense has a demonstrated need for advanced manufacturing capabilities in locations and on forward-deployed platforms without regular logistical support or available resources for traditional fabrication and finishing technologies.

Perhaps the foremost example is the US Navy submarine fleet. While aircraft carriers are commonly referred to as ‘cities at sea’ because of their size and on-board industrial capacity, the nation’s attack and ballistic missile submarines deploy for months at a time and must function as entirely self-contained units with no physical connection to the outside world. Submarines on patrol duty may only surface during departure from base and upon return.

When away from home port, there are only two submarine tenders in the entire US Navy, one each for the Atlantic and Pacific fleets, which limits underway replenishment opportunities. These 23,000-ton ships carry physical plants comparable to a small city and are often retasked for mobile fleet support activities, exacerbating the need for an in-situ solution. Much like spacecraft, submarines also have limited volume and environmental constraints on their operations.

A tactical version of the VULCAN device gives the DoD a modular, common manufacturing system deployable on mobile platforms, such as submarines, destroyers, transport aircraft, and trucks, and in fixed locations with limited external support, such as Forward Operating Bases and advance airfields.

Technology Taxonomy Mapping

  • In Situ Manufacturing
  • Processing Methods
  • Prototyping