SpaceTechnology

These satellite-based autonomous factories will manufacture materials in space that are not currently available on Earth

“It’s a terrible location to make stuff on Earth.” According to Andrew Bacon, who is the co-founder of Space Forge firm, a U.K.-centered firm that wants to start manufacturing-specific high-performance substances in autonomous factories aboard returnable satellites—and thereby help drastically cut greenhouse gas emissions on Earth. The startup recently raised $10.2 million in a seed round.

Bacon and Joshua Western, cofounder-CEO seek to use space’s unique conditions—the extremely low gravity and the near-perfect vacuum—to create materials that aren’t possible on Earth. On the (ISS) International Space Station, some novel materials have already been created. Because of gravity and contaminants in the air, a new form of fiber-optic cable is cloudy when created on Earth, but crystal clear when created in space.

Making materials hundreds of miles well above the planet’s surface is economically viable if the materials are significant enough. “This fiber-optic cable can transfer data 100 times quicker than a silica cable, which means it’s worth $6 million per kilogram,” Bacon explains. “When you contrast it to the present cost of launching a satellite, which ranges between $5,000 to $10,000 for every kilogram, it begins to make economic sense.”

To become more efficient, data centers could make use of new space-made materials. “The amount of energy used just to move data around the world is absolutely alarming,” Bacon says. “And a lot of that can be traced all the way down to the semiconductor’s efficiency and the material it’s composed of.” Since the atmosphere can introduce contaminants, making semiconductors on Earth is difficult.

They can be created with fewer impurities and superior materials in space, resulting in increased efficiency. “Improving a semiconductor’s efficiency by 20% has a significantly bigger knock-on impact than simply lowering the power budget by 20%,” Bacon argues. “This implies I’ll require a smaller cooling system, as well as a smaller power source to power it.” The system as a whole might reduce energy consumption by 60%.

Certain manufacturing processes, such as achieving extremely high or extremely low temperatures, are more straightforward in space. The atmosphere on Earth makes it impossible to achieve the high temperatures required for metal production, for example. “Because there’s no oxygen in space,” Bacon explains, “it’s really easy to heat things up to a very high temperature.  Alternatively, you can cool down to around 10 degrees beyond absolute zero by pointing the satellite away from the Earth and away from the sun.” Because gravity does not force metals of various weights apart, metal alloys are simpler to create.

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