MIS is pioneering the use of the microgravity environment on the International Space Station (ISS) for manufacturing technology and product development. MIS has leveraged NASA SBIR support to create the first polymer additive manufacturing machines in space, develop a hybrid additive-subtractive metal manufacturing technology, and investigate the creation of large single-crystal industrial materials in microgravity. The next step in the industrialization of LEO is the formulation of base materials, such as specialty glasses, that can be refined into higher value products in microgravity. The Glass Alloy Manufacturing Machine (GAMMA) is an experimental system designed to investigate how these materials form without the effects of gravity-induced flows and inform process improvements for commercial product development. While focused around creating fluoride glass preforms (glass cylinders that can be pulled into fiber optic cable), the system can also be used to melt a host of glass compositions, experiment with different dopants, and start the process of creating larger and higher quality glasses aboard the ISS. The initial system development focuses on remelting glass materials originally created on the ground and quantifying differences with ground control experiments. MIS plans to continue this technology development to fully design a system capable of several different experiments for optimizing glass quality in microgravity. These experiments will include processing the constituent powders into samples, using containerless processing to remove potential impurities in the preforms, varying gravity levels through use of a centrifuge, and other experiments which can only be performed on the ISS platform.
Exotic optical fiber is useful in many different applications such as lasers, spectroscopy, and high-grade sensors. Because of the unique properties when manufacturing fiber in space, specific types of fiber gain tremendous value by lowering the attenuation and reducing microcrystals in the glass yielding a much better product. Mid-IR fiber lasers are enabled by the specialty optical fibers and are attractive due to high efficiency, compact packaging, superior reliability, excellent beam quality, and broad gain bandwidth.
GAMMA exotic fibers are able to transmit data across distances with low attenuations and less amplifiers. compared to traditional silica optical fiber Technological companies handling large amounts of data daily, such as Facebook, Google, Amazon, etc. would all be interested in having optical fiber which has better performance over a wider bandwidth.