Perfect Spheres

Tiny smaller than a millimeter spheres with better sphericity and equal sizes.

Last updated: 2018-11-29

Status

First commercial product to be made in space. Apparatus flown many times on the Space Shuttle. Latest status and market unknown.

Applications

  • Reference sizes for microscopes
  • Space beads
  • Ball bearings
  • Hollow ball bearings

Why & Solution

Instrument called the Monodisperse Latex Reactor was used on several Space Shuttle experiments. In one experiment, 10 billion identical tiny balls were produced. NIST certified those spheres and they varied in size only a tenth of a percent. You could buy 15 million of them in a 5-milliliter vial from the NIST for a cost of $384. If you take a photograph of a substance through the microscope and put one of these sphere in your field of view, you can determine, exactly, just how big things are in the picture. The idea of making spheres in space was behind one of the oldest proposals for space manufacturing: making ball bearings in space. Some uses of ball bearings require bearings of exceptional uniformity or roundness. 1 4

Many of the products we buy come in the form of small particles, powders, or particle suspensions, including medicines, cosmetics, food products, paints, talcum powder, cements, photocopier toners, and milk (which is essentially a suspension of microdroplets of fat in water). In other cases, small particles are unwanted, for example in cleanrooms for microelectronics or pharmaceutical manufacturing, in lubricating oils in motor vehicles, and in the air we breathe and the water we drink. There are also situations where one would like to compare a known, standard particle to an unknown, test particle as in the case of blood-cell testing. In all of these instances, particle standards play a key role, enabling quality control, product uniformity, conformance to standards, traceability to NIST, interchangeability of instrumentation, uniformity of measurement, or some combination of these goals. 2 3

Revenue Estimation

Cost Estimation

One could buy 15 million of 10-micron spheres in a 5-milliliter vial from NIST for a cost of $384. 1

Market Size Estimation

NASA planned to make more latex balls in larger sizes and published estimated that claim the market for larger 100-micron spheres could be $200-300 million annually. 1

References

  1. Harry L. Shipman. Space 2000: Meeting the Challenge of a New Era. Published in 1987. Source

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  2. Thomas R. Lettieri et al . National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Certification of SRM1960: Nominal 10 [xm Diameter Polystyrene Spheres (''Space Beads''). Volume 96, Number 6, November-December 1991, Journal of Research of the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Source

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  3. Thomas R. Lettieri. Certification of 10 m Diameter Polystryrene Spheres (“Space Beads”). Source

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  4. Ioana Cozmuta et al. Space Portal NASA Ames Research Center. Microgravity-Based Commercialization Opportunities for Material Sciences and Life Sciences: A Silicon Valley Perspective. Source

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