Researchers on ISS set to explore manufacturing in space

Researchers on ISS set to explore manufacturing in space

Researchers on ISS to explore manufacturing in space as new supplies arrive
The two-stage Falcon 9 launch vehicle leaves Cape Canaveral carrying the Dragon resupply spacecraft to the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA)

With the safe arrival of SpaceX’s thirteenth resupply mission, the ISS now has research kit and new sensors on board with which to pilot new research projects.

Last Friday’s launch of a SpaceX Dragon craft from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida means that an experiment in space manufacturing will soon be getting underway on the International Space Station (ISS). 

Packed with more than 4,800 pounds of research equipment, Dragon, the spacecraft created by Tesla founder Elon Musk’s SpaceX, successfully concluded its thirteenth resupply mission to the ISS this weekend. And just like on its previous mission, which Internet of Business reported on back in August, it had some interesting R&D kit on board. 

Read more: SpaceX launches 12th resupply mission to International Space Station

Manufacturing in space

Among the research supplies held in Dragon’s pressured is a piece of equipment designed to demonstrate the benefits of manufacturing fiber optic filaments in a microgravity environment.

Designed by the company Made in Space, and sponsored by the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), the investigation will involve attempting to pull fiber optic wire from ZBLAN, a heavy metal fluoride glass commonly used to make fiber optic glass. Results from this investigation, according to NASA, could lead to the production of higher quality fiber optic products for use both in space and here on Earth.

A number of sensors are also included in Dragon’s haul. NASA’s Total and Spectral Solar Irradiance Sensor, or TSIS-1, will measure the Sun’s energy input to Earth. TSIS-1 measurements will be three times more accurate than previous capabilities, enabling scientists to study the Sun’s natural influence on Earth’s ozone, atmospheric circulation, clouds and ecosystems. NASA says these observations are essential to understanding the effects of solar variability on Earth.

The Space Debris Sensor (SDS), meanwhile, will measure the orbital debris environment around the ISS for two to three years. Once mounted on the station’s exterior, this one-square-meter sensor will provide near-real-time debris impact detection and recording. Research from this investigation could help lower the risks posed by orbital debris to human life and critical hardware.

Read more: OneWeb aims to bridge digital divide with internet satellites

Capturing a dragon

Once it arrived at the ISS yesterday (Sunday 17 December), Dragon was successfully captured and attached using the space station’s robotic arm, Canadarm, at 8:26am Eastern Time, for installation on the station’s Harmony Module.

The maker of Canadarm is Canada-based MDA, a business unit of Maxar Technologies, which last week announced that it has signed four contracts with the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), with a total value of almost CA$53.8 million (US$41.8 million).

This includes two contract amendments to provide funding for continued support to the robotic operations of the ISS’s Mobile Servicing System (MSS), which comprises Canadarm2, a two-armed robotic arm called ‘Dextre’ and a mobile base system. Together, these three robotic systems perform a range of resupply, maintenance and servicing tasks for the ISS.

In addition, MDA also announced a contract under the Space Technology Development Program for CA$800,000 (US$621,400) to develop technology for autonomous control of future space hardware such as robotic arms, rovers, scientific instruments and satellites and another for CA$450,000 (US$350,000) to run a concept study for two new rover types. One will be a pressurized rover to transport astronauts on the Moon’s surface and the other will be a smaller rover that will collect lunar samples on the Moon and pre-test technologies for incorporation into the pressurized rover.

Read more: Iridium partners with Magnitude Space to explore IoT satellites opportunity


Jessica Twentyman is a journalist with a 20-year track record as both a writer and editor on national newspapers and IT trade titles. Her work focuses on how smart companies use technology to achieve real business results. She is a contributor to the Financial Times, The Economist and Computer Weekly, and Consulting Editor on Diginomica.com and I-CIO.com.

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