Made in Space Selected for Two NASA SBIR Phase II Awards

Made in Space will continue to pursue the development of advanced glass alloys and 3-D manufactured structures for space interferometry missions under a pair of contract awards from NASA.

The space agency selected the additive-manufacturing company for awards under phase II of its Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. The contracts are worth a maximum of $750,000 apiece for up to two years.

“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 company said in a summary of its proposal. “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.”

Made in Space plans to design a system capable of optimizing glass quality in the microgravity environment aboard the International Space Station.

The new glass alloys could be used in space lasers, spectroscopy, and high-grade sensors, the summary added.

“GAMMA exotic fibers are able to transmit data across distances with low attenuations and less amplifiers compared to traditional silica optical fiber,” Made in Space said. “Technological companies handling large amounts of data daily, such as Facebook, Google, Amazon, etc. would all be interested in having optical fiber which has better performance over a wider bandwidth.”

The company’s other research project involves manufacturing and assembling structures that will allow for advanced interferometer missions.

“In-space manufacturing and assembly of interferometer structures optimized for the target environment dramatically reduce the system cost, mass, and areal density without sacrificing the structural control of the optical subsystems’ absolute positions,” the summary states.

“In this Phase II effort, full-scale Optimast beam prototypes are produced and mirror alignment is demonstrated to nanometer precision. This work is essential to the successful incorporation of Optimast technology in future space science and commercial interferometry missions,” the document added.

The satellites would improve the detection and characterization of exoplanets and faint distant objects, Made in Space said. They could also be used for space situational awareness and wide-field Earth observation missions.

The project summaries follow.

Made in Space, Inc.
Jacksonville, Fla.

Glass Alloy in Microgravity (GAMMA)
Subtopic: ISS Utilization and Microgravity Research

Principal Investigator
Jan Clawson

Estimated Technology Readiness Level (TRL) :
Begin: 4
End: 6

Technical Abstract

MIS is pioneering the use of the microgravity environment on the International Space Station (ISS) for manufacturing technology 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 (glass cylinders that can be pulled into fiber optic cable), 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.

MIS plans to continue this technology development to fully design a system capable of several different experiments for optimizing glass quality in microgravity. These experiments will include processing the constituent powders into samples, using containerless processing to remove potential impurities in the preforms, varying gravity levels through use of a centrifuge, and other experiments which can only be performed on the ISS platform.

Potential NASA Applications

Exotic optical fiber is useful in many different applications such as lasers, spectroscopy, and high-grade sensors. 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. Mid-IR fiber lasers are enabled by the specialty optical fibers and are attractive due to high efficiency, compact packaging, superior reliability, excellent beam quality, and broad gain bandwidth.

Potential Non-NASA Applications

GAMMA exotic fibers are able to transmit data across distances with low attenuations and less amplifiers compared to traditional silica optical fiber. Technological companies handling large amounts of data daily, such as Facebook, Google, Amazon, etc. would all be interested in having optical fiber which has better performance over a wider bandwidth.

Duration: 24 months


Precision In-Space Manufacturing for Structurally-Connected Space Interferometry
Subtopic: Precision Deployable Optical Structures and Metrology

Principal Investigator
Deejay Riley

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

Technical Abstract

Made In Space, Inc. continues the development of an in-space manufacturing architecture for precision long-baseline structures that support space interferometry missions in the infrared. In-space manufacturing and assembly of interferometer structures optimized for the target environment dramatically reduce the system cost, mass, and areal density without sacrificing the structural control of the optical subsystems’ absolute positions.

In this Phase II effort, full-scale Optimast beam prototypes are produced and mirror alignment is demonstrated to nanometer precision. This work is essential to the successful incorporation of Optimast technology in future space science and commercial interferometry missions.

Potential NASA Applications

Future missions for detecting and characterizing new worlds and faint distant objects require much larger effective apertures than the current generation of space telescopes. Terrestrial telescopes also have large amounts of distortion that blur the viewing of these objects rendering them unusable for in-depth analysis. In-space manufacturing using space-rated polymers provides mission-optimized structural baselines for infrared interferometry missions that are lower in mass and complexity than traditional hinged trusses or deployable booms.

Potential Non-NASA Applications

An Optimast-SCI satellite optimized for space situational awareness (SSA) and wide-field Earth surface observation is possible with a 50-meter optical baseline. This system has a limiting resolution of only 25 centimeters from a 36,000-kilometer Geosynchronous Orbit (GEO). Such a satellite is capable of both rapid response inspection of satellites and at-will observation of the facing hemisphere.

  • P.K. Sink

    Always good to see these smart startups qualify for Phase Two. They’re on the cutting edge of our future in space.