- Parabolic Arc
- June 2, 2023
AFRL Sponsorship Recipient Wins NASA Space Manufacturing Contract
WRIGHT PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, OH. (AFRL PR) — Air Force Research Laboratory research sponsorship recipient, United Semiconductors, LLC (USLLC), is one of eight companies selected to work on a three-year, $21 million NASA contract to manufacture tools in space.
Almost two decades ago, AFRL’s photonic materials branch began collaborating with Professor Partha Dutta at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and sponsoring his research on the growth of semiconductor crystals. The success of this initial fundamental research project spurred interest for key DOD applications.
Since 2005, AFRL has worked with United Semiconductors, a woman-owned small business in New York to develop a suite of semiconductor and photonic materials for infrared components. The effort started with just two furnaces producing small size crystals for research evaluation. In 2019, after successful demonstration and development, the company moved to southern California and gradually expanded resources to 32 furnaces. AFRL continued to support USLLC through 2020 under contract efforts that supported material development for infrared sensors.
Dr. Peter Schunemann, former president of the American Association of Crystal Growth and chief crystal growth scientist of BAE Systems, said, “Regarding Dr. Partha Dutta, I have known him for many years…he has my utmost respect as a crystal grower. He is certainly one of the most productive researchers ever funded by AFRL. I look forward to seeing the impactful contributions he will make to this ambitious NASA initiative.”
The key technological innovation of this work is to grow large diameter semiconductor crystals with high optical quality, which have use in several U.S. Air Force and U.S. Space Force systems of interest.
Based on the unique properties their material demonstrated, NASA awarded United Semiconductors a contract to develop new technologies using the benefits of microgravity for in-space manufacturing of advanced materials. USLLC will grow semiconductor crystals used in electromagnetic sensors. Under microgravity conditions, the company hopes to produce larger crystals with significantly fewer defects. If successful, the crystals grown in space would produce usable wafers or thin slices of semiconductors used to build circuits.
“The ternary semiconductor crystals that [AFRL] funded him to develop are incredibly challenging,” Schunemann said. “Numerous obstacles had to be overcome to achieve device-quality crystals, including severe segregation, compositional nonuniformity, constitutional supercooling, inclusions, voids, cracks and grain boundaries. The fact that he has been able to achieve reproducible crystals with high optical quality, uniformity and precise composition control, and scale these crystals to very large diameters, is nothing short of astounding!”
AFRL has a history of working with fundamental researchers in universities and with small businesses successfully translating key technologies from research scale to system level products.
Raytheon, with help of AFRL, has funded USLLC to grow crystals required to build critical sensor systems. In-space manufacturing and other microgravity advancements can potentially reduce the cost and schedule required to build sensors. According to a Raytheon scientist, Raytheon looks forward to the outcome of this NASA-sponsored program.
NASA hopes to use this collaboration with USLLC and others to demonstrate the benefits of in-space manufacturing and other microgravity advancements that are impossible to make on Earth to make strides toward commercial economy in low-Earth orbit.
As USLLC’s contract with NASA progresses, AFRL’s photonic materials branch branch continues to fund crystal growth effort for Air Force application from fiscal years 2021 through 2023. To read more about the contract, visit https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/news/nasa-selects-phase-1-proposals-for-inspa.
The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) is the primary scientific research and development center for the Department of the Air Force. AFRL plays an integral role in leading the discovery, development, and integration of affordable warfighting technologies for our air, space, and cyberspace force. With a workforce of more than 11,500 across nine technology areas and 40 other operations across the globe, AFRL provides a diverse portfolio of science and technology ranging from fundamental to advanced research and technology development. For more information, visit: www.afresearchlab.com.
15 responses to “AFRL Sponsorship Recipient Wins NASA Space Manufacturing Contract”
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The endless search to find some profit in space. A product that can only be produced in space.
The only product that will enable space colonization is Space Solar Power. The problem is that it is a megaproject that only state sponsorship can accomplish and this means “entrepreneurs” cannot own it and become oligarchs with it.
It is true….the solution to climate change is obvious and available right now but greed will not allow it to happen. Billions of human beings will have their lives ruined because there is no profit in saving them.
…only state sponsorship can accomplish…
I’m all for state sponsorship of space solar power. So I wonder why no space agency has gotten the ball rolling on this. What do they know that we don’t?
Ever heard of the Koch brothers? The Military Industrial Complex? And of course rocket jesus said it was a stupid idea.
That is what they know. And they also know that since the Reagan Revolution the government is the problem and not the solution to anything. Only the market matters. Money as the god of this world does not care about Climate Change or Space Solar Power or the future of humankind, it only cares about profit.
See how that works?
No space agency has the resources to “get the ball rolling.” It would require an effort like Apollo, except involving all the nations of the world contributing so that funding would be in the trillions of dollars. This sounds shocking but World War 2 was like that and the cold war burned mountains of money up that could have been used to build a very different world than the one we live in now.
The Moon would be turned into a factory site. The prerequisite to doing that is Super Heavy Lift Vehicle launches headed for the Moon once a week or even more often. This might sound like fantasy but considering even one program, the F-35 fighter, it is not a challenge.
Gee, is that all it would take? A veritable five-finger exercise then. Astonishing it’s not already a done deal.
Partly because Congress has little use for NASA except to treat it as a jobs program; partly because of historical high costs for space launch (which feeds into people assuming space solar must always be more expensive than terrestrial alternatives); and partly because the paradigm Apollo set was vague ‘exploration’ for geopolitical stunts, rather than opening a new frontier. That said, the government does have an important role to play still – I rather like these papers by Al Globus et al. towards kickstarting SPS development without requiring enormous sums. Still not ‘cheap’ per se, but certainly much less than Congress spends on the ISS or on the SLS.
“-without requiring enormous sums-“
The siren call of NewSpace….screaming cheap is the worst thing that has ever happened to space exploration.
There is no cheap.
With a total cost as high as $1.508 trillion dollars, the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter program would be the largest single military contract in history.
As I’m sure you recall, SLSFanboy, in The High Frontier O’Neill spoke of running pilot programs to determine viable approaches to space solar; once we understood more, then greater sums could be invested. You’re right in that there is no cheap, but only partly; it is far, far easier to get people to commit to a few hundred million, or a few billion, than it is to get them to commit to immediate sums in the hundreds of billions or trillions, especially when they do not understand or care about your rationale. If space solar is workable on a small scale, it can work on a large scale too – and it will be much easier to convince opponents of its benefits if there’s real-world evidence for them.
I guess you don’t know that the small scale testing has all been done. All the data is in. There are no technical obstacles, no questions to be answered. It works. The only things that need to be developed are exactly what is the most efficient hardware and delivery systems. And of course how to manufacture on the Moon. Because lunar manufacture is the key to solving climate change. Only by creating a Space Solar Power infrastructure off-world will we ever catch up with demand. Providing a western standard of living for a world of 10 billion is the challenge. That will not be cheap, no matter how much your ideology demands it be so.
I doubt you have a clue about what this is really about. Your whole tone, that I need to somehow convince others and change the world, trivializes the issue. The world is going to change…it is up to all of us to either change it for the better or wreck it further and let billions die. You do not strike me as giving a damn.
If the world ever has 10 billion people on it, that won’t be any time soon. Billions will die in this century anyway due to demographic implosion in many nations. Climate Change[tm] is going to be way late to the Grim Reaper Party – assuming it ever shows up at all.
Yes, they need to use an iterative approach to its development, especially in terms of the power beaming.
There pretty obviously is cheap-er, though. And, soon, even more where that came from.
That it is a very deep money pit before any possibility of something to show for the effort. That it likely requires the development of Starship size launchers to work and probably won’t make money until lunar industrialization lowers the cost of it. Then there are all the environmental assessments that will create another barrier.
My favorite solar fantasy.
The “only” product that meets your stringent criteria of religious purity anyway. From where I sit, LEO datacom and space tourism appear much more promising.