Made in Space Eyes Glass Alloy Production & Modular Science Platforms in Orbit

Made in Space (MIS) will develop systems for the production of glass alloys in microgravity, the assembly and refurbishment of modular platforms in orbit, and the in-space manufacturing of large structures for infrared space interferometry missions with the help of NASA funding.

The three projects were among five Made in Space proposals that NASA selected for funding under its Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I program. Each contract is worth up to $125,000 over 13 months.

The five selected proposals include:

Glass Alloy in Microgravity (GAMMA) – a system for the formulation of base materials, such as specialty glasses, that can be refined into higher value products in microgravity;

Apeiron Space Integration System — a modular assembly and integration architecture that enables the routine expansion, upgrade, and refurbishment of persistent robotic platforms in low Earth orbit (LEO) at the module and sub-module levels;

Precision In-Space Manufacturing for Structurally-Connected Space Interferometry – in-space manufacturing and assembly of structures measuring 15 meters (49 feet) or longer for infrared space interferometry missions;

Space Exposure for Structural-Health Aware Materials Experiment (SESAME) — a project to expose Made in Space’s Structural-Health Aware Fault-Tolerant Engineered to Respond (SAFER) materials to the rigorous conditions of low Earth orbit.

In-Situ Monitoring and Process Control (AMARU) — enhanced verification and validation (V&V) methods to confirm fabricated components meet the rigorous standards required for aerospace applications; and,

Descriptions of the selected projects are below, followed by the proposal summaries.

The Next Step in LEO Manufacturing

International Space Station Expedition 42 Commander Barry “Butch” Wilmore shows off a ratchet wrench made with a 3-D printer on the station. (Image Credit: NASA)

Made in Space says that specialty glass manufacturing is the next step in the industrialization of low Earth orbit.

“The Glass Alloy Manufacturing Machine (GAMMA) is an experimental system designed to investigate how these materials form without the effects of gravity-induced flows and inform process improvements for commercial product development,” the proposal summary states.

“While focused around creating fluoride glass preforms, the system can also be used to melt a host of glass compositions, experiment with different dopants, and start the process of creating larger and higher quality glasses aboard the ISS,” the document added. “The initial system development focuses on remelting glass materials originally created on the ground and quantifying differences with ground control experiments.”

Glass alloys have a wide variety of uses on Earth and in space, including in sensors, imaging, telecommunications, networking, information systems and lasers.

Modular Science & Technology Stations

The Apeiron Space Integration System is a long-duration space platform that can be reconfigured using modules launched as extra payloads aboard existing boosters. The platform will use a common adapter port, autonomous robotic integration and sub-modular pallets to host a variety of payloads.

“By using form factors compatible with existing launch architectures and available autonomous assembly technology, the Apeiron Space Integration System enables a wide variety of platform configurations to be cost-effectively and rapidly deployed by a variety of existing launch vehicles,” the proposal summary stated. “For example, Apeiron can create a LEO Small Payload Station from the excess capacity on a single [Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle] flight.”

Apeiron would make use of EELV Secondary Payload Adapter (ESPA) rings, which fly on average every two months.

“The Apeiron system is capable of seeding Small Payload Stations in every orbit these flights reach,” the summary states. “This enables rapid and cost-effective construction and commissioning of autonomous persistent platforms in LEO from mass that would otherwise be discarded, enabling a wide variety of remote sensing, science, and communications payloads to be flown at a much lower cost.”

NASA scientists would be able to fly technology demonstration payloads, small instruments and dedicated missions using the Aperiron system without the added costs of integrating the support subsystems and satellite buses.

“MIS will work with industry partners, such as NanoRacks, Alpha Space, and Teledyne Brown Engineering to identify existing customers that can transition to a Apeiron-based Commercial Science Station and develop the accommodations necessary to ensure continuity of business operations,” the company said.

Advanced Infrared Space Interferometry

Made In Space would use a technology it developed named Optimast, which is capable of producing microgravity-optimized linear structures  in orbit, to advance the field of infrared space interferometry.

“Adapting the MIS Optimast technology to produce long baseline structures with low thermal expansion materials enables simultaneous structural fabrication and positioning of the optical subsystems to the required absolute (static) and dynamic (thermal deflection and oscillation) tolerances,” the proposal summary stated.

“Long baseline interferometry is necessary to provide the sub-arcsecond angular resolution and high spectral resolution for collecting spectral data on protostellar disks, finding protoplanets hidden in dust fields, and resolving questions about how galaxies merge,” the document added.

“The Optimast-SCI technology is also applicable to the development of large deployable antennas, manufactured structures for large backplanes and other spacecraft systems, and structurally-connected interferometry in other wavelengths,” the summary said.

Making Spacecraft SAFER

Made in Space has developed a suite of Structural-Health Aware Fault-Tolerant Engineered to Respond (SAFER) materials that are designed to let engineers known when problems develop so they can be addressed before failure occurred.

“MIS has successfully demonstrated the SAFER materials through lab testing,” according to the proposal summary. “The next step in the development of these materials is a demo in space, including exposure to the LEO environment as well as exposure to stimuli representing loading cases.”

Under the SESAME project, SAFER materials will fly on the exterior of the International Space Station (ISS) using the Materials ISS Experimental Flight Facility (MISSE-FF).

“Active monitoring of spacecraft is beneficial to NASA for human flight missions,” the summary said. “Launch incurs a large amount of stress on all parts constituting the spacecraft, and operations in orbit also result in loads on the spacecraft.

“Using the SAFER materials further developed by SESAME to monitor the spacecraft can identify where structures or parts of the spacecraft are weakened, allowing for repair or reinforcement. SESAME contributes to mission resilience and positively impacts future mission,” the document added.

Better Additive Manufacturing Quality Control

The AMARU project is aimed at improving verification and validation (V&V) methods used to ensure that 3D printed parts meet the rigorous standards required for aerospace applications.

“AMARU would enhance the state of the art V&V methods by combining and integrating advanced sensor technology and Siemen’s industry leading NX software tools,” the project summary stated.

“NASA is currently undergoing the Phase A of the Fabrication Laboratory (FabLab) under the NextSTEP program which involves developing a universal manufacturing machine capable of using multiple materials but is also required to have an extensive validation and verification system for quality control,” the proposal added.

“MIS would develop this hardware and software suite to be proposed on future Phases of FabLab and could offer AMARU as an add-on to other manufacturing systems being developed for this program,” the company said.

Made in Space also believes there is a substantial market for AMARU in the additive manufacturing, subtractive manufacturing, and assembly line markets.

Summaries of the five selected proposals follow.


Proposal Title:
Glass Alloy in Microgravity (GAMMA)

Subtopic Title:
ISS Utilization and Microgravity Research

Principal Investigator
Jan Clawson

Estimated Technology Readiness Level (TRL) :
Begin: 2
End: 4

Technical Abstract

MIS is pioneering the use of the microgravity environment on the International Space Station (ISS) for manufacturing and product development. MIS has leveraged NASA SBIR support to create the first polymer additive manufacturing machines in space, develop a hybrid additive-subtractive metal manufacturing technology, and investigate the creation of large single-crystal industrial materials in microgravity.

The next step in the industrialization of LEO is the formulation of base materials, such as specialty glasses, that can be refined into higher value products in microgravity. The Glass Alloy Manufacturing Machine (GAMMA) is an experimental system designed to investigate how these materials form without the effects of gravity-induced flows and inform process improvements for commercial product development.

While focused around creating fluoride glass preforms, the system can also be used to melt a host of glass compositions, experiment with different dopants, and start the process of creating larger and higher quality glasses aboard the ISS. The initial system development focuses on remelting glass materials originally created on the ground and quantifying differences with ground control experiments.

However, MIS plans trade studies to find more complex glass experiments, such as processing the constituent powders into samples, containerless processing, varying gravity levels, and other experiments which can only be performed on the ISS platform.

Potential NASA Applications

Exotic optical fiber can be used in many different applications such as lasers, spectroscopy, high-grade sensors and other items that NASA and the Department of Defense could use. Because of the unique properties when manufacturing fiber in space, specific types of fiber gain tremendous value by lowering the attenuation and reducing microcrystals in the glass yielding a much better product.

Potential Non-NASA Applications

Telecommunications, Networking, and Information: Technological companies handling large amounts of data daily would all be interested in having better performance over a wider bandwidth.

Sensors and Imaging: Better coverage in the mid-IR regions for sensors provides new applications for many industries

Lasers: Mid-IR fiber lasers are enabled by the specialty optical fibers investigated here, and are attractive due to high efficiency, excellent beam quality, and broad gain bandwidth


Proposal Title:
Apeiron Space Integration System

Subtopic Title:
In-Space Sub-Modular Assembly

Principal Investigator
Michael Snyder

Estimated Technology Readiness Level (TRL) :
Begin: 2
End: 4

Technical Abstract

Based on lessons learned from previously-funded SBIR work for DARPA on in-space robotic reconfiguration and utilization of existing flight-rated structures, Made In Space, Inc. (MIS) proposes the Apeiron Space Integration System to meet NASA requirements for a modular assembly and integration architecture that enables the routine expansion, upgrade, and refurbishment of persistent robotic platforms in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) at the module and submodule level.

Apeiron utilizes a common adapter port, autonomous robotic integration and payload hosting, and a sub-module pallet system to create reconfigurable long-duration space platforms from modules that fit within existing launch vehicle envelopes. By using form factors compatible with existing launch architectures and available autonomous assembly technology, the Apeiron Space Integration System enables a wide variety of platform configurations to be cost-effectively and rapidly deployed by a variety of existing launch vehicles. For example, Apeiron can create a LEO Small Payload Station from the excess capacity on a single EELV flight.

Flights carrying ESPA rings launch on average every two months. The Apeiron system is capable of seeding Small Payload Stations in every orbit these flights reach. This enables rapid and cost-effective construction and commissioning of autonomous persistent platforms in LEO from mass that would otherwise be discarded, enabling a wide variety of remote sensing, science, and communications payloads to be flown at a much lower cost.

Potential NASA Applications

A persistent Science Station based on the Apeiron system enables NASA scientists across the mission directorates to fly technology demonstration payloads, small instruments, and dedicated missions without the additional cost of integrating the support subsystems and satellite bus required for dedicated free-flyer missions. This approach continues the lessons learned with external payload hosting on the ISS, but eliminates the requirements imposed by operation on a human-tended platform.

Potential Non-NASA Applications

The Apeiron System provides persistent access to the LEO environment and microgravity for automated payloads and systems. MIS will work with industry partners, such as NanoRacks, Alpha Space, and Teledyne Brown Engineering to identify existing customers that can transition to a Apeiron-based Commercial Science Station and develop the accommodations necessary to ensure continuity of business operations.


Proposal Title:
Precision In-Space Manufacturing for Structurally-Connected Space Interferometry

Subtopic Title:
Precision Deployable Optical Structures and Metrology

Principal Investigator
Michael Snyder

Estimated Technology Readiness Level (TRL) :
Begin: 2
End: 3

Technical Abstract

Made In Space, Inc. (MIS) proposes the construction of large baseline structures, 15 meters or greater, for infrared space interferometry missions by autonomous in-space manufacturing and assembly. This enables the deployment of large primary trusses unconstrained by launch load or volume restrictions that meet science requirements for the high angular resolutions (less than 0.3 arcseconds) necessary to detect planets near bright stars and measure individual objects in star clusters.

In this Phase I effort, MIS investigates the mass, performance, and mission planning benefits of in-space manufacturing for structurally-connected interferometers (SCI). MIS is the leading developer of manufacturing technologies in the space environment. Utilizing technologies derived from Archinaut, a NASA Tipping Point 2015 award winner, large infrastructure can be manufactured on orbit and enable a multitude of missions.

Optimast is a self-contained, scalable machine for producing microgravity-optimized linear structures on-orbit, developed as a product application of the Archinaut technologies. MIS has developed Optimast to a TRL-6 with successful thermal vacuum testing of extended structure manufacturing in 2017.

Adapting the MIS Optimast technology to produce long baseline structures with low thermal expansion materials enables simultaneous structural fabrication and positioning of the optical subsystems to the required absolute (static) and dynamic (thermal deflection and oscillation) tolerances.

An Optimast-SCI baseline structure thus provides superior absolute position control over traditional deployable structures at much lower cost, mass, and integration complexity and eliminates the parasitic mass from hinge mechanisms and traverse rails.

Potential NASA Applications

Long baseline interferometry is necessary to provide the sub-arcsecond angular resolution and high spectral resolution for collecting spectral data on protostellar disks, finding protoplanets hidden in dust fields, and resolving questions about how galaxies merge. The Optimast-SCI technology is also applicable to the development of large deployable antennas, manufactured structures for large backplanes and other spacecraft systems, and structurally-connected interferometry in other wavelengths.

Potential Non-NASA Applications

MIS has preliminarily identified opportunities for Earth remote sensing and space situational awareness for large optical interferometers in Earth orbit. Depending on the customer requirements for spatial resolution, target resolution, and imaging wavelength, MIS plans to consult with industry partners and further develop concepts for structurally-connected interferometers intended for commercial applications.


Proposal Title:
Space Exposure for Structural-Health Aware Materials Experiment (SESAME)

Subtopic Title:
MISSE Experiments

Principal Investigator
Dr. Derek Thomas

Estimated Technology Readiness Level (TRL) :
Begin: 3
End: 5

Technical Abstract

NASA has outlined a bold vision for future exploration on the Moon and Mars. Structural health monitoring (SHM) provides numerous benefits to these future missions, including increased reliability, reduced maintenance cost, and increased mission safety. Structural health monitoring (SHM) provides numerous benefits to future NASA missions, including increased reliability, reduced maintenance cost, and increased mission safety.

Made In Space (MIS) has developed a suite of Structural-Health Aware Fault-Tolerant Engineered to Respond (SAFER) materials through an active Phase I STTR project to provide SHM capabilities. MIS has successfully demonstrated the SAFER materials through lab testing. The next step in the development of these materials is a demo in space, including exposure to the LEO environment as well as exposure to stimuli representing loading cases.

MISSE-FF provides a platform for in-space characterization of the SAFER materials. MIS has developed an innovative Space Exposure for Structural-Health Aware Materials Experiment (SESAME) to expose the SAFER materials to the combined effects of the LEO environment and cyclic loading.

SESAME is an active experiment intended to integrate with the sample deck of the standard MISSE Sample Carrier. SESAME is an innovative MISSE-FF payload for exposing and testing candidate materials for structural health monitoring on future space exploration missions. SESAME uses standard MISSE-FF power and data interfaces to simplify integration of the active experiment into existing ISS infrastructure.

Space exposure is critical for further development of candidate structural health monitoring materials that will be used in future missions. The materials being proposed for SESAME testing have unique material properties that may be affected by space exposure. Fully characterizing the effect of space exposure will help manufacturers and designers better use these smart materials for greater impact on future space flight missions.

Potential NASA Applications

Active monitoring of spacecraft is beneficial to NASA for human flight missions. Launch incurs a large amount of stress on all parts constituting the spacecraft, and operations in orbit also result in loads on the spacecraft. Using the SAFER materials further developed by SESAME to monitor the spacecraft can identify where structures or parts of the spacecraft are weakened, allowing for repair or reinforcement. SESAME contributes to mission resilience and positively impacts future missions.

Potential Non-NASA Applications

A similar application to NASA spacecraft are various aerospace vehicles used by the DOD. The USAF has many critical parts on aircraft and spacecraft could benefit from further development of SAFER materials by SESAME. The USN could benefit from applying SAFER materials to ships and submarines in various high pressure, high stress locations. The commercial sector could apply SAFER materials in the same manner as NASA and DOD by using the materials on vehicles and pressure vessels.


Proposal Title:
In-Situ Monitoring and Process Control (AMARU)

Subtopic Title:
In-situ monitoring and development of in-process quality control for in-space manufacturing (ISM) applications

Principal Investigator
Michael Snyder

Estimated Technology Readiness Level (TRL) :
Begin: 2
End: 4

Technical Abstract

Made In Space, Inc. (MIS) is a global leader in manufacturing technologies for harsh environments. MIS developed, owns and operates a commercial Additive Manufacturing Facility (AMF) aboard the International Space Station (ISS), used for both government and commercial use.

Over multiple years of operation, MIS developed quality processes that ensure the success of printing in the microgravity environment which is operated and monitored from the ground control station at MIS’ Moffett Field facility. These processes include ground testing, computer modeling, and simulations of the final product to optimize manufacturing on orbit. These quality processes are key to the successful operation of AMF.

MIS continues to break new ground: recent successes include an Optical Fiber EXPRESS Rack payload, the first operation of polymer additive manufacturing in a simulated Low Earth Orbit environment, and a Guinness Book of World Records award for longest 3D printed structure.

But why stop there? MIS has been researching metal additive manufacturing since its founding. The Vulcan Phase I SBIR Technology Development Program (TDP) combines metal additive manufacturing with traditional manufacturing methods, enabling components to be produced in gravity independent environments.

In developing these various manufacturing technologies, MIS has extensively researched new Verification and Validation (V&V) methods to confirm fabricated components meet the rigorous standards required for aerospace applications. Building on the successes of AMF and SAMEE, a DARPA funded SBIR Phase I TDP (Section 5), AMARU would enhance the state of the art V&V methods by combining and integrating advanced sensor technology and Siemen’s industry leading NX software tools.

Potential NASA Applications

NASA is currently undergoing the Phase A of the Fabrication Laboratory (FabLab) under the NextSTEP program which involves developing a universal manufacturing machine capable of using multiple materials but is also required to have an extensive validation and verification system for quality control. MIS would develop this hardware and software suite to be proposed on future Phases of FabLab and could offer AMARU as an add-on to other manufacturing systems being developed for this program.

Potential Non-NASA Applications

There are many companies that can use AMARU in the additive manufacturing, subtractive manufacturing, and assembly line markets. Because AMARU is universal and requires little space near the build volume, the system can be integrated in a variety of ways with little to no interference. However, this system provides a robust set of data monitoring and feedback control to increase throughput, decrease waste and provide an overall increase in both accuracy and precision of each manufactured part