Fabricating microchips or semiconductor crystals in orbit by benefitting from ultra-high vacuum among others. Microgravity-grown crystals have increased single crystal size and suppressed impurities and defects.4
Terrestrial microfabrication techniques are difficult to transfer into microgravity and other methods have been developed and tested on a small scale in space. Microgravity Research Associates was founded in 1979 to produce gallium arsenide chips, but has been dormant for decades. Made in Space was selected by NASA in 2020 to develop autonomous semiconductor chip manufacturing.
- Gallium Nitride (GaN)
- Gallium Nitride on diamond (GaN-on-diamond)
- Gallium Arsenide (GaAs)
- Silicon Carbide (SiC)
- Space-based microsensors
Why & Solution
Semiconductor microchips are high value per mass products whose fabrication requires many of the resources available in low-Earth orbit. It is hypothesized that orbital fabrication of silicon microchip devices may be more economically attractive than traditional Earth-based fabrication based upon the inherent advantages of the space environment: vacuum, cleanliness, and microgravity.3
Gallium nitride, used to make LEDs, is difficult to solidify in large amounts at a time because its two constituent molecules don't always bind perfectly in order, leading to defects. Reducing the movement of the melted fluid as hotter and less-dense fluid rises, which occurs because of gravity, can decrease those defects — as can preventing the highly reactive substance from touching the sides of its container, according to Randy Giles, chief scientist at the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space. Someday, substances like that could benefit from in-space creation.2
Using orbital vacuum for enhanced semiconductor fabrication was pioneered in the Wake Shield project which produced ultra-high vacuums for epitaxial growth of high quality GaAs like materials. A proposed alternative uses the native Low Earth Orbit vacuum levels to achieve the silicon microfabrication processes needed for manufacturing silicon microchips. However standard terrestrial fabrication techniques are difficult to transfer into the microgravity and vacuum environment of space. They are optimized for using in-situ resources: water, power, air pressure and gravity that are plentiful on Earth. An alternative microfabrication process has been developed using the native vacuum environment which could replace wet terrestrial based microfabrication, with significant savings in equipment size, mass and consumables, while reducing cycle time.3
It is found that by developing new, dry processes that are vacuum compatible, fabricating semiconductor devices in orbit is both technically and economically feasible. The outcome is a synergistic, orbital-based methodology for micro-fabrication capable of building and delivering commercially marketable microfabricated structures. The base case modeled, production of 5,000 ASIC wafers per month, indicates that orbital fabrication is 103% more expensive than existing commercial facilities. However, optimization of process parameters and consumable requirements is shown to decrease the cost of orbital fabrication dramatically. Modeling indicates that the cost of orbital fabrication can be decreased to 58% that of an advanced, future Earth-based facility when trends of increasing process equipment costs and decreasing orbital transport costs are considered.3
Taking advantages of microgravity environment, amorphous semiconductors made a remarkable improvement both in quality and quantity. Space is considered to be a favorable environment for many things including the followings that were investigated: semiconductor joining by atomic adhesion, fabrication of thin films of diamond and amorphous silicon alloys, CVD processes, production of super-minute grains, light element analysis by SIMS (Secondary Ion Mass Spectrometry), and anti-proton generation by laser accelerators. This report reviews the potentials of material processing in space. Processing technologies of spacecraft construction materials, thin solid films, and fine alloys are reviewed. Light element analyzing method and antiproton storing technology for liquid metal MHD (Magnetohydrodynamic) power generator are also reviewed.5
Made in Space was selected to develop an autonomous, high throughput manufacturing capability for production of high quality, lower cost semiconductor chips at a rapid rate. Terrestrial semiconductor chip production suffers from the impacts of convection and sedimentation in the manufacturing process. Fabricating in microgravity is expected to reduce the number of gravity-induced defects, resulting in more usable chips per wafer. Market applications include semiconductor supply chains for telecommunications and energy industries.
Vision to enable a future where millions of people are living and working in space to benefit Earth. In order to preserve Earth, Blue Origin believes in the need to enable humanity to expand, explore, find new energy and material resources, and move industries that stress Earth into space.
Since 2021, Blue Origin has been making solar cells and transmission wire from regolith simulants. We have pioneered the technology and demonstrated all the steps. Our approach, Blue Alchemist, can scale indefinitely, eliminating power as a constraint anywhere on the Moon.
- We start by making regolith simulants that are chemically and mineralogically equivalent to lunar regolith, accounting for representative lunar variability in grain size and bulk chemistry. This ensures our starting material is as realistic as possible, and not just a mixture of lunar-relevant oxides.
- We have developed and qualified an efficient, scalable, and contactless process for melting and moving molten regolith that is robust to natural variations in regolith properties on the Moon.
- For protection from the harsh lunar environment, solar cells need cover glass; without it, they would only last for days. Our technique uses only molten regolith electrolysis byproducts to make cover glass that enables lunar lifetimes exceeding a decade.
- Because our technology manufactures solar cells with zero carbon emissions, no water, and no toxic ingredients or other chemicals, it has exciting potential to directly benefit the Earth.
In 2018, NASA has set up three research tracks as part of its public-private NextSTEP-D program. “NextSTEP” stands for “Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships.” The D refers to Appendix D of the NextSTEP-2 program description, which focuses on ISRU technologies.
- Track 1 supports one-year trade studies to identify ISRU technology gaps and further define the benefits of including ISRU in mission architectures. In addition to Blue Origin, Track 1 participants include United Launch Alliance, the University of Illinois at Urbana and UTC Aerospace Systems.
- Track 2 supports component development and testing in simulated space environments. Companies selected for Track 2 are BlazeTech Corp., Paragon Space Development Corp., Skyhaven Systems and Teledyne Energy Systems.
- Track 3 focuses on extensive subsystem development and testing in simulated space environments. The Track 3 companies are Honeybee Robotics Spacecraft Mechanisms Corp. and OxEon Energy LLC.
Faraday Technology will create an in-space manufacturing process to directly print next-generation covetic materials (nanocarbon-infused metals/alloys) in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) via an electro-co-deposition approach to leverage the unique capabilities of the International Space Station (ISS).
Specifically, one such, exemplar novel class of material, covetics (nano-carbon-infused metals), are inherently challenging to produce terrestrially but have great commercial potential due to their enhanced physicochemical properties as compared to conventional metals, such as high thermal (50% higher than Cu), high electrical conductivity (40% higher than 6061 Al), and high strength (30% higher yield strength than Cu).
Therefore, Faraday Technology and the University of Texas in Dallas will develop a material manufacturing process to directly print these next generation covetic materials in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) via an electro-codeposition approach.
This work will build on the University of Texas's direct Cu printing platform which has been demonstrated at pre-commercial scale the potential to print large area circuit board lines utilizing a localized pulse electrodeposited (L-PED) technique.
Additionally, this work will build on Faraday's electro-code position process activities that include depositing carbon materials into copper. In Phase I we will establish the viability of directly printing covetic materials by developing the direct write hardware and the electro-codeposition electrolytes to deposit electrochemically reduced carbon materials into a copper matrix in an orientation opposite or perpendicular to gravity such that we can demonstrate at the lab scale, the potential to form covetic materials with enhanced electrical, thermal, and mechanical properties.
This demonstration would enable a preliminary market need assessment (Phase I) and zero gravity flight demonstration (Phase II), which could establish a commercial market for in-space manufacturing of these exciting covetic materials. If successful the results of the Phase I/II program will set the stage for LEO commercialization of this manufacturing process.
G-SPACE Inc is a one-stop shop platform to design microgravity products for orbital microfabrication. The company offers services such as microgravity product design, optimization of the microgravity manufacturing process, and insights into customized market data for in-space manufacturing. If you are not sure where to start with microgravity and in-space manufacturing, the company will provide the most optimum starting point for microgravity fabrication at savings of 10X.
G-Space aims at developing the ability to identify, define, and optimize the precise operational spectrum for space manufacturing to ensure manufactured products are at their highest quality and performance.
MERCURIA™ is a market optimization engine uniquely constructed to provide estimates of addressable market sizes for in-space manufactured products with terrestrial demand. The software tracks product superiority, manufacturing process scalability and standardization, and sustainability opportunities (greenhouse gas emission, etc) along realistically constructed commercialization timelines for in-space manufactured products.
NASA SBIR award in 2020 for Advanced Terrestrial to Orbital Manufacturing (ATOM) platform that builds on a terrestrial experimental technique, Gravity Elimination via Methods of Suspension (GEMS), enhanced through the addition of first-principles modeling, computational tools, and machine learning algorithms.
- G-Space is the only commercial company that provides a tool in advanced material manufacturing that harnesses the effect of gravity on material stability and narrows down the optimized 0G manufacturing envelope.
- The main objective of this SBIR Phase I is to develop a conceptual design of GEMS and to complete the buildout and beta testing of the ATOM platform, including a data manager, analysis and reporting system.
- The resulting platform will be validated using primarily in-house Heavy Metal Fluoride Glass data. In addition, the platform will be expanded to ingest selected material data from NASA’s Microgravity Database as well as an additional suite of high profit margin materials with potential for fabrication in a zero G environment.
NASA’s Physical Sciences Research Program has selected five ground-based proposals in response to the Physical Sciences Informatics System call for proposals. This program element is part of Science Mission Directorate (SMD) Research Opportunities in Space and Earth Sciences - 2021 (ROSES-2021) solicitation. These five research projects, involving recognized experts in the fields of combustion science, complex fluids, fluid physics, informatics, and materials science, will use data contained in the PSI system and build on prior reduced-gravity research to advance fundamental research in the physical sciences.
- "Development of a computer vision based toolbox for feature extraction, analysis, modeling and prediction of microgravity data sets"
ZBLAN IN-SPACE FIBER OPTICS MANUFACTURING
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Thermal Modeling For Fiber Drawing Automation
ATOM™ thermal modeling helps maintain optimal conditions for the fiber optics processing and manufacturing (including gravity correction)
In-Space Monitoring of Fiber Drawing Process
ATOM™ analytics and customized computer vision algorithms ensure that the optimal regime for microgravity processing is maintained. They also offer the ability to monitor and correct promptly key fiber optics parameters (fiber diameter uniformity, concentricity, etc.) during the in-space manufacturing process.
Quality Control and Validation (pre and post flight)
Provide best terrestrial manufacturing reference; inspection of a suite of fiber properties (attenuation, defects, etc.) and estimates of contributions (including gravity correction) that lead to loss of performance.
Lunexus Space (previously known as C-Botics) is a pre-seed venture focused on bootstrapping the orbital manufacturing ecosystem by recycling and remanufacturing photovoltaics in space from the materials bound up in the ever growing mass of orbital debris.
Arachne Station is an award winning concept developed for NASA's Orbital Alchemy Challenge. It takes in defunct satellites and space debris, disassembles as needed, and processes the solar panels into silane gas: the universal precursor for many semiconductors including polysilicon photovoltaics.
Develops scalable solar panel production facilities and aims to be the first utility company to service clients anywhere in the solar system. Using materials that can be found in desert sand and a completely emission-free process, Maana Elecric’s solar panels will be available at a price that is 60% below that of conventional solar farms. Its LunaBox is able to produce 1 megawatt of capacity per year on the Moon while also generating breathable oxygen.
With the support of European Space Agency - ESA, Maana Electric is prototyping a European system able to use material with low iron content and electricity to produce carbon neutral steel. This would enable to produce steel from low-grade material extracted near construction sites, reducing supply chain costs, addressing the rapid depletion of high-grade iron and promoting Europe as a world leader in green technology.
Maana Electric’s TerraBox is a fully automated factory capable of producing solar panels using only sand and electricity as inputs. The TerraBox fits within shipping containers, allowing the TerraBoxes to be transported to deserts across the globe and produce clean renewable energy.
Reactor for production of heat and pure ISRU metal during lunar nights through thermite reaction
Thermite reactions are chemical reactions between a pure metal and a metal oxide, which release a lot of energy and form a more stable metal oxide and a reduced metal. These reactions can refine many different metals with a relatively high purity, and the resulting metals could be used to build on the Moon. This early technology development project aims to develop a thermite reactor with the double role of producing the metals needed for building and living on the Moon, and generating heat to keep astronauts warm at night.
Formed in 1979 for the purpose of engaging in materials processing in space. Plans to grow crystals in space, starting with gallium arsenide.
Plans to grow crystals in space, starting with gallium arsenide. The high-quality gallium arsenide crystals could, in principle, be used to make chips that would be much faster than the silicon chips used in most applications. Gallium arsenide can be made on Earth, but the crystal are imperfect and the circuits are not as fast as they could be.
Working on manufacturing electronics and semiconductors in LEO. Experiment is scheduled to fly to ISS on CRS-28 in 2023.
Developing an autonomous, high throughput manufacturing capability for production of high quality, lower cost semiconductor chips at a rapid rate. Terrestrial semiconductor chip production suffers from the impacts of convection and sedimentation in the manufacturing process. Fabricating in microgravity is expected to reduce the number of gravity-induced defects, resulting in more usable chips per wafer. Market applications include semiconductor supply chains for telecommunications and energy industries.
Earthly Solution Risk
Exists as lots of research is happening to keep up with Moore's law.