Revolutionizing Space Manufacturing: Sharing Insights from the Breakthroughs in Optical Glass Fabrication from ISS

M. Vestel
Flawless Photonics Inc.,
United States

Keywords: optical fiber, space manufacturing, ZBLAN, microgravity, crystal growth, fiber draw, ISS


Flawless Photonics was established to revolutionize fiber optics by manufacturing and scaling a promising material: ZBLAN (Zr, Ba, La, Al, Na fluorides). Discovered in the 1970s, telecom companies in the US, Europe, and Japan envisioned ZBLAN as a successor to silica, should it be produced at scale and without light-scattering defects. However, despite promising results in early-stage testing, the scale-up of defect-free ZBLAN has thus far been unattainable. As a result, ZBLAN remained a scientific oddity for decades – until now. Through reinvestigation, researchers identified a viable path to defect-free ZBLAN should manufacturers be able to ensure that ZBLAN is produced with extreme precision in an environment that limits defect growth. Scientists discovered that microgravity’s unique properties offer the specific environment needed to effectively suppress convection and ion transport, and thus, limit detrimental crystal growth. In response, Flawless Photonics has developed automated precision tools for in-space manufacturing, along with supporting AI systems and advanced purification techniques, to successfully produce, at scale, the world’s first defect-free ZBLAN – SpaceFiber. Soon, Flawless Photonics will be able to replace silica with SpaceFiber in key use cases and transform the telecommunications industry, offering unprecedented capabilities to both the military and private sector. Through the development of the novel material, Flawless Photonics will initially focus on integrating short forms of SpaceFiber into existing laser systems such as optical communication devices, remote sensors, and telecommunication amplifiers to offer immediate and significant improvements to such systems. Flawless Photonics has already established partnerships with manufacturers of such components and has secured committed customers, including stakeholders from the U.S. Air Force (USAF). In its quest to dramatically alter the telecommunications industry, Flawless Photonics has gained significant support and non-dilutive funding for the R&D of its ZBLAN products, from respected institutions and future customers, such as the USAF, NASA, the Department of Energy, and the International Space Station (ISS) National Lab. Spearheaded by a team of global business leaders and expert scientists (10+ Ph.Ds in advanced materials, physics, etc.), Flawless Photonics is proudly launching a telecommunications revolution. Led by project PI, Dr. Michael Vestel, Flawless Photonics recently embarked on a groundbreaking space venture in collaboration with the ISS National Laboratory, marking a significant milestone in optical fiber technology. Their experiment, launched aboard Northrop Grumman’s 20th Commercial Resupply Services (NG-20) mission, aims to address gravity-induced defects in optical glass products manufactured on Earth. The project seeks to validate innovative manufacturing techniques for ZBLAN optical glass in space. The mission represents a crucial step forward in advancing fiber manufacturing processes beyond terrestrial limitations. Dr. Vestel seeks to use this symposium opportunity to share the results of the company’s most recent in-space experiment and the potential impact of the results. Already hitting incredible milestones such as the longest continuous fiber draw in space, ever, Dr. Vestel sees this experiment as a momentous milestone in the early history of in-space manufacturing and validating evidence for the potential of microgravity processing.