The Promise of Manufacturing in Space for Defense Applications: Directions, Enablers & Challenges

A. Hamilton, N. Gladden, D. Barnhart
United States

Keywords: in-space manufacturing, ontology, survey, manufacturing enterprise


The promise of expanding traditional manufacturing into the space domain is a cutting-edge capability that is attracting significant attention from US government agencies and industry. This presentation will describe an organizing ontology used to structure foundational ISAM developments and share preliminary findings from a recent survey investigating manufacturing in space highlighting future directions and challenges that effect how potential space-to-space and space-to-Earth services could enable new activities, missions, and markets for the space manufacturing enterprise. We developed a theoretical ontology to help organize the multi-faceted work that enables ISAM capabilities. The ontology began with a top-level grouping that recognizes the source of materials, the platforms used to host/perform manufacturing, the specific processes associated with manufacturing, and then uses. From there it details interactions between the groups, the role of transport between source and platform, challenges with various processes, etc. The survey examined space manufacturing through a holistic approach, where in-space manufacturing leaders and enablers were asked to provide their feedback on which technology areas are most important to move us closer to the end-goal of creating products in-space for both Earth and space applications. The survey was informed by our top-level ontology that organizes the materials, facilities, and uses of goods, products, and capabilities that come from in-space manufacturing. Questions focused on respondents’ views on a variety of topics including the importance of universal interfaces, useful/viable/valuable manufacturing techniques, factors that impact the creation and sustainability of manufacturing in space, importance of autonomy, and the viability of commercial and defense markets. Participants were provided the definition of “Space Manufacturing” - the ability to create goods, products, assemblies, sub-systems, or full systems in space. The assertion is space enables leveraging the unique thermal, radiation, gravitational, and vacuum environments accessible on-orbit which can lead to the creation of cutting-edge materials, structures, and technologies to support defense and commercial space applications. There are many different emerging applications of space manufacturing, pharmaceutical production, fiber optic strand production, semiconductor manufacturing, and creation of large- scale structures, for example. Pioneering work on the International Space Station (ISS) has shown proof of concept for a variety of manufacturing processes that are enhanced by a lack of gravity. Yet manufacturing in space has numerous challenges. The need for sufficient infrastructure and facilities, efficient energy sources, creation of necessary supply chain(s), on orbit validation and verification of proposed manufacturing processes, autonomous vs. manned systems – these are obstacles that have taken considerable time, engineering, and design to overcome for Earth-bound manufacturing. Our presentation will share results and provide analysis highlighting key drivers in platform requirements and explore the relevant metrics needed for a holistic space manufacturing enterprise which may include sources of materials, transport, platform requirements for stability and manipulation, support for manufacturing processes, and end-use applications. A few highlights include a disconnect in expectations of technology rollout between industry and government, the importance of a “universal interface,” and the different ways in which groups value different manufacturing processes.