Seems like the announcement shown below from Redwire Space of a commercial sale of optical crystal made in microgravity should be getting more attention. It will definitely provide some encouragement to the many companies building crewed and uncrewed orbital platforms for which space manufacturing is a key target market. Only a two gram sampling was bought but if sold in quantity at the same price, such crystal would bring in $2 million per kilogram, which is 100 to 1000 times the cost of sending a kilogram into space and bringing it back.
[I’ll note, though, that this is not in fact the first product made in space and sold on earth. Micrometer-sized, nearly perfectly round, latex spheres were made on Space Shuttle flights in the early 1980s . The were sold by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) as reference standards for calibrating optical instruments and for size comparisons for particles used in medicines, paints, cosmetics, etc. The market was not enormous, however, and the number of space-made spheres soon satisfied the demand. For more details, see Monodisperse Latex Reactor (MLR): A materials processing space shuttle mid-deck payload and Certification of 10μm Diameter Polystyrene Spheres (“Space Beads”) – Tom Lettieri, NIST (pdf).]
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (June 23, 2022) – Redwire Corporation (NYSE: RDW), a leader in space infrastructure for the next generation space economy, announced the first sale of its space-manufactured optical crystal to researchers at the Center for Electron Microscopy and Analysis (CEMAS), a leading electron microscopy facility, at The Ohio State University. The transaction recorded two grams of space-manufactured crystal were sold to Ohio State. Based on the sample size sold, the space-manufactured crystals have an approximate value of $2 million per kilogram.
The space-enabled optical crystal was manufactured in Redwire’s Industrial Crystallization Facility (ICF) onboard the International Space Station (ISS). This transaction marks the first time that a space-enabled materials product has been sold on Earth—a significant milestone for space commercialization and a demand signal for Redwire’s space-based manufacturing.
Space-manufactured optical crystals could provide significant improvements to high-power, large laser systems used on Earth. The high-energy laser market is seeing strong growth with an increasing number of terrestrial applications from advanced manufacturing and machining to weapons systems. These laser systems are enabled by high efficiency laser lenses that are produced using optical crystals.
Currently, optical crystals manufactured on Earth have lower damage thresholds due to gravity-induced inclusions and defects which limits the output of high-power laser systems since the lenses are subjected to laser-induced damage. Space-manufactured optical crystals could improve system performance because they have a higher laser damage threshold due to fewer inclusions and defects because of the space manufacturing process.
“This is an exciting milestone that validates our commercialization plan for manufacturing space-enabled products in low-Earth orbit and further stimulates demand for in-space production,”
said Andrew Rush, Redwire’s President and COO.
“This is a watershed moment for space commercialization. While we are continuing to refine production techniques for a variety of products, we are now expanding our focus beyond pathfinder demonstrations to increasing production of space-enabled products sustainably, profitably, and at scale.”
[ Dr. John Horack, Professor and Neil Armstrong Chair in Aerospace at Ohio State, said,]
“The ability for Ohio State to work with space-grown crystals improves our ability to grow CEMAS as a signature materials characterization and research facility unlike any other, for space-based and terrestrial materials, addressing complex challenges in domains ranging from cancer to planetary science,”
CEMAS researchers will study the space-grown crystal and compare it to Earth-grown potassium dihydrogen phosphate (KDP) crystals using aberration-corrected electron microscopy to observe atomic-scale differences in impurities and defects between the two materials, something that has not yet been achieved. The space-manufactured crystal presents an opportunity for CEMAS to build the group’s capabilities for analyzing materials manufactured in space and those that could be returned from asteroids, the Moon and Mars in the future. The insights from this research could also inform the development process of space-manufactured optical crystals to optimize future products.
Launched in early 2021, ICF is a commercial in-space manufacturing facility designed to demonstrate microgravity-enhanced techniques for growing inorganic KDP crystals that are commonly used in high-energy laser systems on Earth. The facility is just one of several Redwire ISS payloads developed with the purpose of catalyzing and scaling demand for commercial capabilities in LEO by producing high-value products for terrestrial use.
About Redwire: Redwire Corporation (NYSE: RDW) is a leader in space infrastructure for the next generation space economy, with valuable IP for solar power generation and in-space 3D printing and manufacturing. With decades of flight heritage combined with the agile and innovative culture of a commercial space platform, Redwire is uniquely positioned to assist its customers in solving the complex challenges of future space missions. For more information, please visit www.redwirespace.com.
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