The latest manufacturing process for fiber optic cables is set to take place on the International Space Station during the first quarter of 2017. The project has been made possible by an award from the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space, abbreviated CASIS.
If testing is successful, space-made fiber optics will be made for a variety of applications on Earth, particularly for telecommunications.
The advantage of space manufacture is due to the microgravity in Earth’s orbital region, which is theorized to provide an ideal environment to grow glass fibers.
When fibers are grown on the surface of Earth, gravity creates impurities and microcrystal structures within the fibers. These imperfections reduce the quality of the fiber because they inhibit light absorption and increase scattering, which results in signal degradation that is especially detrimental when data is transmitted over long distances.
Space-made fiber optics, produced by an optimized miniature fiber drawing system, are expected to be much clearer and free of gravity-induced microcrystal formations. Although the new product has not been tested against terrestrially-made fibers, researchers believe that the space-made fibers will provide greater throughput and response times than currently used fiber optic cables.
The initial test batch will consist of 100 meters of space-made optical fiber. If this microgravity-grown fiber proves to be significantly better than currently-used fiber, new facilities are planned to be built in space to mass produce these next-gen fibers.
Andrew Rush, the leader of the project, believes this space manufacturing venture could become a catalyst for a rapidly-growing space manufacturing boom that could cross over into many other industries.
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