What’s Space Manufacturing?

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Space manufacturing involves creating objects in orbit or beyond, taking advantage of microgravity and vacuum conditions. Benefits include improved industrial processes and lower costs for goods. Products can be returned to Earth or used in space, and dangerous processes can be conducted more safely.

Space manufacturing refers to the process of creating various objects outside any terrestrial environment, in orbit or beyond. The conditions necessary for space production typically include the presence of vacuum and microgravity. These conditions can create a number of advantages over land based manufacturing operations and fall into two general categories. One advantage is that some industrial processes perform better or differently in microgravity conditions, which can result in a superior product. The other use for space manufacturing is that goods and products can be built in space with lower costs than those associated with transporting them to orbit.

One use for space manufacturing may be the creation of products that will then be returned to Earth and used there. Experiments conducted throughout the history of human spaceflight have indicated that there would be benefits to producing certain goods in space. Some processes exhibit unique behavior in space, such as the way insulin crystals form differently in orbit than they do on Earth. Industrial processes that behave differently or are more efficient in space could lead to goods being produced in space and then returned to Earth. Semiconductors are a type of product that can be created in orbit for later use on Earth.

Other applications of space manufacturing are focused on creating products and materials that will be used outside the terrestrial environment. After the initial investment has been made to get the necessary equipment into orbit, raw materials can be recovered from near-Earth objects (NEOs) such as asteroids and other sources. This process can be substantially less expensive than lifting more raw materials into orbit, which can facilitate further space manufacturing operations.

In the long run, all the goods and products needed for further exploration and production could be created in space. Objects that are too large or expensive to take to orbit could be manufactured there instead. This may allow for the creation of larger space stations or facilitate the construction of space elevators.

Other potential benefits of space manufacturing involve dangerous processes and experiments that can endanger human life or the environment if conducted on Earth. Moving these activities to orbit or even deeper space could allow them to be done more safely. This type of space manufacturing could benefit from human-controlled or automated robotics in a nearby habitat or facility.

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