Manufacturing in Space

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Man's capability to leave the Earth offers many new prospects for the future. Asteroid mining, building launch facilities on the moon, tourism, and space manufacturing are only some of the many opportunities that are being considered.

There are many considerations which must be examined . For example, in the case of manufacturing in space, economic factors include : can it be done on Earth ? If so, which offers a most cost effective venue?; environmental factors include both contamination of the plant and whatever pollutants may be generated in the manufacturing process. Let us examine some of the advantages and disadvantages of this enterprise.

Advantages

Why manufacture in space? Space offers many unique conditions which alter the properties of materials manufactured. The two major conditions are lack of gravity and lack of contamination

Microgravity

Gravity causes properties familiar to all of us. One of which is the separation of fluids according to density. With the removal of gravity, alloys and mixtures of materials with properties incompatible here on Earth can be made, resulting in alloys or mixtures which have completely different properties than those found on earth. Other processes which benefit from a lack of gravity include welding, crystal growth, pharmaceuticals, semiconductors, non linear optic and photonic materials.

Contamination:

Space is a sterile environment. Sensitive production such as semi conductors and biotech would benefit from not having to use expensive equipment to filter out harmful dust which is so prevalent on the Earth.

Disadvantages

The major disadvantage to manufacturing in space is cost. Currently all space bound vehicles are government owned. Fee structures for sending materials into space are exorbitant and delivery service is both uncertain and infrequent.

It costs approximately $20,000.00 per pound to send materials into space currently. Although NASA's goal is to get the cost down to $100.00 per pound it is not likely that this will happen any time soon.

Scheduling also remains a problem. The current shuttle fleet flies about 7 missions per year compared to a goal of once per week.
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