Redwire recently announced that the company’s Ceramic Manufacturing Module (CMM) successfully manufactured a ceramic part in space for the first time.
The commercially developed in-space manufacturing facility successfully operated with full autonomy using additive stereolithography (SLA) technology and pre-ceramic resins to manufacture a single-piece ceramic turbine blisk on-orbit, along with a series of material test coupons. The successful manufacture of these test samples in space is an important milestone to demonstrate the proof-of-potential for CMM to produce ceramic parts that exceed the quality of turbine components made on Earth.
The ceramic blisk and test coupons will be stowed and returned to Earth for analysis, aboard the SpaceX Dragon CRS-21 spacecraft. CMM, developed by Redwire subsidiary Made In Space, is the first SLA printer to operate on-orbit.
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, even small strength improvements can yield years-to-decades of superior service life.
CMM was developed in partnership with the ISS Research Integration Office at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. The ceramic facility is one of three ISS pilot payloads developed through this partnership that aims to catalyze and scale demand for commercial capabilities in LEO by producing high-value products for terrestrial use. Made In Space first demonstrated the SLA printing technology found inside CMM through a series of parabolic flights funded through NASA’s Flight Opportunities program, in 2016.
The successful CMM mission builds upon Redwire’s flight heritage with four other additive manufacturing facilities developed by the Made In Space team that have successfully flown and operated on the space station.
“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,” said Tom Campbell, the 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.”
“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,” said Michael Snyder, CTO of Redwire. “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 industrialization.”
Additionally, Redwire subsidiary Made In Space (MIS) was awarded the Exceptional Technology Achievement Medal at the 2020 NASA Honor Awards Ceremony hosted virtually by NASA’s Johnson Space Center. The medal was awarded for the Made In Space team’s exceptional and pioneering success developing and operating in-space manufacturing facilities on the International Space Station (ISS) while furthering the commercialization of LEO.
This prestigious NASA medal is awarded to Government or non-Government individuals for exceptional technology contributions significantly contributing toward the achievement of the NASA mission. The medal was presented to Redwire COO Andrew Rush in recognition of the team’s exceptional efforts.
To date, Redwire’s flight heritage on the ISS includes five facilities, developed by MIS teams, that have pioneered in-space manufacturing and paved the way for manufacturing with specialized materials in orbit to benefit Earth.
MIS teams are currently developing three ISS pilot payloads, through a partnership with the ISS Research Integration Office at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, that aim to catalyze and scale demand for commercial capabilities in LEO by producing high-value products for terrestrial use. The facilities include the Ceramic Manufacturing Module (CMM), Industrial Crystallization Facility (ICF), and the Turbine Superalloy Casting Module (TSCM).
CMM, which launched in October 2020 on Northrop Grumman’s CRS-14 mission successfully demonstrated ceramic additive manufacturing in space for the first time in history, earlier this week. The facility is designed to provide proof-of-potential for single-piece ceramic turbine blisk (blade + disk) manufacturing in microgravity for terrestrial use.
The next manufacturing facility set to launch to the ISS is ICF—a commercial, in-space manufacturing device designed to provide proof-of-principle for diffusion-based crystallization methods to produce high quality crystals in microgravity relevant for terrestrial use.
ICF will be followed by TSCM, which will investigate potential improvements in superalloy microstructure by heat treating in microgravity.
These advancements in space enabled manufacturing capabilities could signal new opportunities for LEO commercialization.