Mercury Systems is a technology company that makes the world a safer, more secure place. We push processing power to the tactical edge, making the latest commercial technologies profoundly more accessible for today’s most challenging aerospace and defense missions.
- In-Space Manufacturing
- In-Space Manufacturing
- First launch
- Physical Optics Corporation (POC) proposes to develop the Orbital Fiber Optic Production Module (ORFOM), which addresses NASA's needs for sustainable space operations and full utilization of the International Space Station (ISS).
- ORFOM is an orbital scientific payload that will be capable of optical fiber draw in zero gravity onboard the ISS, and specifically "ZBLAN" fluoride glass fiber which is capable of transmission from ultraviolet (UV) to mid-wave infrared (MWIR).
- When produced on Earth, ZBLAN glass fibers exhibit excessive loss due to crystallization; however, this crystallization can be suppressed in zero gravity. Low down-mass and the high value of low-loss ZBLAN fiber make it an ideal candidate for commercial ISS utilization. During Phase I, we will design and assemble a prototype fiber draw system that will have the size, weight, and power (SWaP) to fit into a NanoRacks ISS payload bay.
- We will also demonstrate a novel fiber draw process using an in-situ coating and a method to start the fiber draw from a preform that can be used in zero gravity.
- In Phase I, POC will develop a compact Technology Readiness Level (TRL)-4 version of the ORFOM, and formulate a preliminary Mission Plan, which will be implemented in Phase II. We will also explore commercial applications such as rare-earth-doped fiber for fiber lasers.
A microgravity manufacturing environment for optical fibers is believed to eliminate the defects in the manufacturing process that occur on Earth, leading to higher-quality fibers than can be produced on the ground. In April 2019, a fully functional engineering prototype designed and built by Mercury was launched into orbit for NASA.
Following its launch on July 14, 2022, two NASA-supported optical fiber manufacturing payloads arrived at the International Space Station on July 16 aboard a SpaceX Commercial Resupply Services mission (CRS-25).
- The innovations will be used to demonstrate automated production of high-quality optical fibers in microgravity for use in applications on Earth. The payloads are Space Fibers 3 developed by San Diego-based FOMS, Inc. and the Orbital Fiber Optic Production Module (ORFOM) from Mercury Systems of Torrance, California.
- Fiber manufacturing runs using the new hardware from FOMS and Mercury Systems are expected to last up to two weeks for each payload on the station. NASA’s InSPA program will assess results to help inform future hardware improvements and steps toward potential optical fiber manufacturing in space in the coming years.