Redwire successfully manufactures first ceramic part in space

January 4, 2021

Close-up on the ceramic blisk produced by the CMM in orbit (Courtesy Redwire)

Redwire, Jacksonville, Florida, USA, has announced the successful manufacture of a ceramic part in space for the first time using the first stereolithography (SLA) Additive Manufacturing machine, also known as Vat Photopolymerisation (VPP), to operate in orbit. Developed by Redwire subsidiary Made In Space, and known as the Ceramic Manufacturing Module (CMM), the machine utilised pre-ceramic resins to manufacture a single-piece turbine blisk (blade and disk) in orbit, along with a series of material test parts.

The successful manufacture of these samples in space is an important milestone to demonstrate the potential of the CMM to produce ceramic parts that exceed the quality of turbine components made on Earth, by taking advantage of the low-gravity environment. The samples produced will be returned to Earth on board the SpaceX Dragon CRS-21 spacecraft.

“This is an exciting milestone for space-enabled manufacturing and signals the potential for new markets that could spur commercial activity in low Earth orbit,” stated Tom Campbell, president of Made In Space. “Building on our in-space manufacturing expertise and our partnership with NASA, Redwire is developing advanced manufacturing processes on orbit that could yield sustainable demand from terrestrial markets and creating capabilities that will allow humanity to sustainably live and work in space.”

Michael Snyder, Redwire CTO, added, “The Ceramic Manufacturing Module’s successful on-orbit operations is an important step towards full-scale manufacturing of materials products that can improve industrial machines that we use on Earth. The space manufacturing capabilities demonstrated by CMM have the potential to stimulate demand in low Earth orbit from terrestrial markets which will be a key driver for space industrialisation.”

CMM aims to demonstrate that ceramic manufacturing in microgravity could enable temperature-resistant, reinforced ceramic parts with better performance, including higher strength and lower residual stress, for high-performance applications such as turbines, nuclear plants, or internal combustion engines.

Made in Space first demonstrated its SLA technology through a series of parabolic flights in 2016, funded by NASA’s Flight Opportunities program. Using this technology, the CMM was developed in partnership with the ISS Research Integration Office at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. This ceramic facility is one of three ISS pilot payloads developed through this partnership, aiming to catalyse and scale demand for commercial capabilities in low Earth orbit by producing high-value products for terrestrial use.

The successful CMM mission builds upon Redwire’s flight heritage, with four other Additive Manufacturing facilities developed by the Made In Space team having successfully flown and operated on the space station. Additional technical partners include HRL Laboratories, Malibu and Sierra Turbines, Malibu and San Jose, California, USA, respectively.

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