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Manufacturing at Zero Gravity

When the ISS is decommissioned in the coming years, it will be replaced by the Axiom Station, a commercial station designed for research and production.

Rob Spiegel

January 17, 2024

4 Min Read
In-space manufacturing
Jonathan Knowles for Stone via Getty Images

At a Glance

  • Manufacturing in space
  • Commercial space station

Axiom Space is “building for beyond” by creating a private astronaut mission to the International Space Station (ISS). The company is also developing Axiom Station, the planned successor to the ISS. The Axiom project will be the world’s first commercial space station, and a big part of its mission will be manufacturing. Space-based manufacturing represents the next frontier for production and potentially a giant leap for solving industry challenges on Earth.

Jana Stoudemire, director of in-space manufacturing at Axiom Space, will lead the keynote panel, Manufacturing Beyond Gravity: Unlocking the Potential of Space for Innovation on Earth on the Axiom Station, at IME West in Anaheim, Calif. on Tuesday, February 6 at 9:00 am.

The panel will highlight Axiom Space and a handful of pioneers who are taking the first steps toward in-space production of biomedical and advanced material products. Other panelists include Yupeng Chen, associate professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Connecticut; Partha Dutta, chief technologist at United Semiconductors; Arun Sharma, assistant professor at Cedars-Sinai – Board of Governors Regenerative Medicine Institute, Smidt Heart Institute; and Nicole Wagner, CEO at LambdaVision.

The Power of Zero Gravity

Axiom Station’s access to microgravity can bolster commercial-scale manufacturing of materials with fewer defects, more uniformity, and improved quality. Those possibilities provide opportunities for a robust commercial space economy.

There are several reasons in-space manufacturing is gaining interest:

  • The space environment, in particular the effects of microgravity and vacuum, enables the research of and production of goods that could otherwise not be manufactured on Earth.

  • The potential extraction and processing of raw materials from other astronomical bodies could enable more sustainable space exploration missions at a reduced cost compared to launching all required resources from Earth.

  • Raw materials could be transported to low Earth orbit where they could be processed into goods that are shipped to Earth. By replacing terrestrial production on Earth, this seeks to preserve the Earth.

  • Raw materials of very high value such as gold, silver, or platinum could be transported to low Earth orbit for processing or transfer to Earth which is thought to have the potential to become economically viable.

We caught up with Jana Stoudemire to get greater insight into Axiom’s planned space station.

Tell us about the commercial space station, Axiom Station.

Jana Stoudemire: Axiom Space was founded to “build for beyond” and develop the world’s first commercial space station, Axiom Station, where access to space moves beyond the partners of the ISS to countries, institutions, industries, and individuals with new ideas fueling a human economy beyond Earth.

Axiom Space is the only company with the privilege of connecting its station modules to the ISS. This arrangement will allow a seamless, cost-effective transition that will continue to facilitate research and innovative development for the private and public sectors. Once constructed, Axiom Station will separate when the ISS is decommissioned and form the foundational infrastructure enabling a diverse economy in orbit, serving nations and private entities, researchers, product developers, manufacturers, and media.

What’s involved in manufacturing in space? What are the needs? What are the advantages?

Jana Stoudemire: In-space manufacturing unlocks the benefits of microgravity to solve industry challenges on Earth. Decades of research on the ISS have shown that microgravity can assist in the development of new technologies and materials that can improve the quality of life on Earth. The microgravity environment provides an absence of sedimentation, convection, and buoyancy, as well as the dominance of material surface tension and diffusive properties.

Axiom Space provides partners and customers with an unprecedented opportunity to access and leverage the unique vantage point and microgravity environment in space. Axiom Space operates end-to-end missions to the ISS today while developing its successor, Axiom Station – a permanent commercial destination in low-Earth Orbit (LEO) that will sustain human growth on the planet and bring untold benefits back home.

What materials are involved? What manufacturing processes are involved?

Jana Stoudemire: Axiom Station will include a dedicated research and manufacturing facility, providing state-of-the-art capabilities for the in-space production of advanced materials and biomedical products. Axiom Space’s research and manufacturing facility in LEO will provide opportunities for improved processes and novel products that cannot be created on Earth under the influence of gravity.

What is the timeline? Will this begin at the International Space Station, or will it wait until you have the Axiom Station up?

Jana Stoudemire: Axiom Station construction is actively ongoing. Fabrication for primary shell structures of the first two modules is underway at Thales Alenia Space in Italy. Axiom Hab 1 hatches have been fabricated, tested, and prepared for delivery to TASI to support Hab 1 pressure testing. Delivery of the first two modules from TASI to Houston will be in 2024. Axiom Space is on track to launch its first module to the International Space Station by 2026. Additional modules will follow to build out Axiom Station, which will be ready to separate from the ISS and operate independently, in support of customers around the world, when NASA plans to retire the ISS.

About the Author(s)

Rob Spiegel

Rob Spiegel has served as senior editor at Electronic News and Ecommerce Business, covering the electronics industry and Internet technology. He has served as a contributing editor at Automation World and Supply Chain Management Review. Rob has contributed to Design News for 10 years.

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