Though on a tiny scale, in-space manufacturing is now a reality, despite sounding like science fiction. This developing market is being watched by analysts and companies, who anticipate rapid growth over the next few years.
In-space manufacturing, according to McKinsey partner Ilan Rozenkopf, has enormous promise, particularly in industries like biotechnology, semiconductors, cosmetics, health care, and even new crops. According to projections, this market may reach $10 billion by 2030, depending on how quickly it develops.
The environment that space for production offers is one of its main draws. Companies are able to experiment with cutting-edge manufacturing techniques and materials that are just not possible to recreate on Earth thanks to high radiation levels, microgravity, and a nearly vacuum state.
Although numerous experiments have been carried out on the International Space Station (ISS) for purposes like growing human tissue, producing purer semiconductors, and developing pharmaceuticals, the idea of in-space manufacturing is not entirely new, it has been constrained by the competitive nature of securing access to the ISS. However, interest in in-space manufacturing is increasing, and space companies are already grabbing the chance to use small space factories to address the rising demand for in-space production.
One such business is Varda Space Industries, a Southern California-based organization with the goal of helping pharmaceutical firms enhance medicinal therapy. Varda uses the special characteristics of space to improve the crystallization quality of proteins. Protein crystallization is the process of converting dense protein solutions for structural investigation. Research has repeatedly demonstrated that protein crystals generated in space are of higher quality than those grown on Earth. The principal active pharmaceutical ingredient—the component in charge of a drug’s therapeutic effects—is the area of focus for Varda.
Varda Space Industries’ co-founder and president, Delian Asparouhov, emphasized that their goal is not to produce widely used medications like penicillin or ibuprofen, but rather to concentrate on medications that generate significant revenue and can be produced within their current manufacturing capabilities.
Space Forge, situated in Cardiff, Wales, is another player in this emerging market. It is developing an in-space factory to produce next-generation semiconductors. In order to create more effective and high-performance circuits, which are essential for applications like 5G and electric vehicles, Space Forge seeks to use materials other than silicon.
With predictions of 10 to 100 times better semiconductor performance, Andrew Parlock, managing director of Space Forge’s U.S. operations, spoke of the transformative potential of these cutting-edge processors. Similar to Varda, Space Forge plans to produce a small percentage of the chips in orbit with the goal of replicating the procedure on Earth once it is optimized.
With the unique benefits of space exploration, in-space manufacturing is now a growing industry that is poised to revolutionize a number of industries. Watch the related video for additional details on this fascinating field and the plans of Varda Space Industries and Space Forge.