Made in Space

Made in Space

Building new things has led to some of humanity’s
biggest leaps forward. We made tools, forged new materials, and learned to produce them for millions. And then billions. With every new innovation
comes news industries, new economies, new challenges. And we’re always looking
for what comes next. Three, two, one. SpaceX Falcon Heavy, go for launch. The industrialization of space, I think, will be one of the great
economic booms of this century. Space offers a whole new environment to create things; things
we can’t make on Earth. Gravity in general is something that we all just take for granted, because it’s just always
here; it affects everything. What becomes interesting is, what happens when you take that away? Private companies are
creating new materials, 3D printing tools, even living tissue. And developing the technology to build entire factories in space. If successful, for-profit manufacturing could lead to a new gold rush, launching the business of
space to its next Giant Leap. Elon Musk and Richard
Branson and Jeff Bezos, and many other industrialists,
they’re making big investments to go up there,
but there has to be a why. There has to be a reason to go to space. We wanna see a very robust
commercial marketplace in space but the other thing that we have to do is we have to prove, we
have to prove the industries that ultimately are gonna
be able to take advantage of the micro-gravity environment of space. In space we’re opening the
way to private enterprise. Since the 1980s, companies have been investigating the unique
properties of micro-gravity, yielding major breakthroughs in the areas of biomedicine and advanced
materials research. And now some are looking
to start production. Manufacturing in space has at
its core the following idea: This extraordinary environment,
with a completely different set of environmental
factors than the Earth, can enable you to manufacture things that you couldn’t manufacture
on Earth, that have value. Our economy has historically
been a value-added economy. We take raw material and
we turn it into steel. And we sell that steel for profit. Finding new ways of making
things is historically the makings of economic boom. Three, two, one, zero, ignition; liftoff. In July of 2019, SpaceX’s CRS-18 launched with over a dozen
new research projects, including investigations being conducted by Goodyear and Adidas. Both companies hope that
studying their products in micro-gravity, could
unlock new opportunities. Also aboard the mission is
a biomaterial 3D printer. And with it, the chance to
print whole human organs. Spock, B.F.F. on side four. Go ahead. So, you were working with DMT to go ahead and get our command window up a little early, correct? Yes, bandwidth is available. Okay, so I’m just pressing where the numbers are and, making sure they’re turned on in sets. Christina, we should be
good to go hands-free now. Copy with a thumbs up. We do wanna start by
opening up the cassette kit. It’s just past three a.m., and the team at Techshot is prepping their initial printing
run for the newly arrived bio-fabrication facility, or B.F.F.. Fueled by coffee and the type of food you might expect to find at three a.m., the team is working
directly with astronauts aboard the I.S.S., all from the comfort of Techshot headquarters, located just outside Louisville, Kentucky. Now we want to double
check that the smart pumps are in the up position. We’re gonna be sliding the cassette in, and we just don’t wanna
bump ’em with the cassette. I see. That looks great. We are good to go ahead
and put the door back on. Okay, copy that. We’ll be able to do some printing. Definitely. From the outside, the B.F.F. doesn’t look that much different to traditional 3D printers, but inside, these smart pumps are being
loaded with living cells. And for the company, all eyes are focused on the inaugural drop, paving
the first biological brick on the long road to printing human organs. Currently there’s over 113,000 people on the organ donation list,
and 22 people are dying every day because there’s
not an organ available. B.F.F. has that long-term potential to someday maybe be able
to provide some hope and a cure for some of those people. This is John Vellinger, the CEO of Techshot, a
company he co-founded over 30 years ago. While his latest project just succeeded in its initial test prints,
the B.F.F. has a long way to go before it’s printing anything as complex as a human liver or heart. Techshot is demonstrating
the B.F.F. technology with this current
flight, and we anticipate being able to print; organs
and structures might be five to 10 years out. Bio-printers have been on Earth for over a decade and
can print things like ear and nose cartilage that are living tissue. But for complex systems like organs, the difficulty has been
printing the vascular networks within the tissue itself. Without vascular tissue to
distribute the needed nutrients, any printed cells would die off, well before they could be used. And Techshot believes that gravity is a big part of the challenge. So, let’s just say that you
want to create something that has one layer of cells. So then on top of that, a
different layer of cells, and on top of that a third layer of cells. So, one way that you could do that would be to just print
one cell in the layer, and then your second layer
with another type of cell, and then your third layer
with another type of cell. But depending on those materials, over a short period time
those cells may not stay in those layers; they may settle out and then end up combining. You think of printing, if you
tried to print with water, here on Earth, you know what would happen. It would just squirt out
like out of a water gun. And that is because in
a gravity environment, everything wants to just
squirt out and wet out and spread out; but in a
micro-gravity environment, you don’t have to worry about any of that. So you have a much
wider range of materials that you can print with. To combat the effects of gravity on Earth, researchers have used
scaffolded structures in order to support the growing cells. The problem is, a lot of ways
that that is accomplished isn’t necessarily the best for biology. It can limit the types of
materials that you can use, and it can also limit the types of cells that can really thrive
in that environment. In micro-gravity, you wouldn’t necessarily have to do that; you could
have your different layers or areas or sections of
different types of cells and put them next to each other. And there are no other forces that are gonna cause them to mix. So you have this opportunity
to be able to make these small regions in three dimensions, in a different type of
way, and different type of structure that would be very difficult to do on the ground. Micro-gravity-enabled bio-printing still has numerous hurdles to cross before it can produce a product for sale. Only now that the printer is
operating aboard the I.S.S. can researchers begin to
understand the correct materials and process necessary,
not only to print organs, but to culture and
preserve them long enough to return back to Earth. But all that time and research
is part of Techshot’s plan. Techshot’s business model
is to be a tech engine. We’re generating new technologies. Then if we feel like that
technology has a potential, commercial potential, we spin that off into a different company
or to a different group. They liken their business to Levi Strauss in the 1800s. During the Gold Rush,
Levi Strauss started out by providing canvas material
for tents and wagons. And when those miners needed
a more durable fabric, the now iconic blue jeans were born. The business model of selling pick axes as opposed to going out
and panning for gold, really certainly applies to space. And there are many companies
at the component level that are providing products and services to launch companies, to
satellite operators, to NASA. One of the challenges
in that business model is you need a gold rush. It’s not clear that 3D-printed organs could set off any kind
of a gold rush to space. So in order to stay in business, Techshot needs to have other projects, making sure it doesn’t
keep all of its eggs in one satellite. This is my science fair project that I started in eighth grade. The whole experiment was to
see how the chicken embryo develop in space without
the presence of gravity. This science project evolved into the Space Shuttle project. Imagine this chicken egg in the back of the back of the barnyard. Gravity is causing the yolk to fall to the bottom of the egg. Now, the hen has a natural instinct of turning that egg around. So therefore, the yolk will
fall, go back up to the top, and gravity pulls it back
down to the bottom again. Now, what would happen
to that egg up in space? The project was sponsored
by Kentucky Fried Chicken. In which their worldwide headquarters is located in Louisville. And so the engineer that I
worked with, Mark Deuser, he and I are the ones that
decided to start Techshot, and start it right here
in Louisville, Kentucky. We started in a motel. It was just two rooms,
and eventually we went into four rooms of the motel. And then as Techshot
matured and developed, and gained more projects
and more opportunities, then we decided, you know,
we’re in this for the long haul. And so we built a world-class
research facility here that we’re sitting in today. And here, just across the street from that first motel room,
Techshot is currently working on 15 active projects, creating technology
for NASA, the military, and major pharmaceutical companies. All with the goal to support
researchers in micro-gravity. Last year was Techshot’s
best year in its history. I think that’s reflective
of the excitement of the new opportunities
that are out there for space. And if they’re lucky,
one of these projects could yield that catalyst
of a space gold rush. But they aren’t alone in this race. Another company, located
in Silicon Valley, views making things as space
as core to their mission, even down to their name. This is fiber-optic cable. It works because the fiber reflects light over and over inside the structure. And even if you bend it, the light still comes
through the other end. But in this application, it’s nothing more than a modern-looking lava lamp. The best fiber-optic cable is being used to transmit data all over the world. In fact, undersea cables carry 99% of all the data that crosses oceans. Optical fiber, usually made from silica, is important because it can transmit data incredibly quickly over a long distance, before needing to have
its signal amplified. But research done by the
U.S. Air Force in the 1990s proved that it would be
possible to produce a fiber known as ZBLAN, that could far exceed traditional silica fiber. The only catch: It needs to
be made in micro-gravity. ZBLAN is an optical glass
that has a transmission window that’s about five times wider
than traditional silica glass. And it has a signal loss
that’s 10-100 times better than traditional silica glass. This is Andrew Rush, the CEO of Made In Space,
a company with a mission to create a new industrial
foothold in space. And it sees ZBLAN as
potentially the first material that can be made in
space and sold on Earth. So, this is a preform of ZBLAN. It extracts out as this
nice dog-bone cylinder. And then it gets inserted into a furnace. This gets thinner and thinner;
thinner than the width of your own hair, and then
you start pulling that. So if everything works out,
you get a spool like this, from our earlier test runs. Basically looks like fishing line. While it is possible to
produce ZBLAN on Earth, it’s nowhere near the potential of what you can produce in micro-gravity. Earth-manufactured ZBLAN
suffers from too many crystals in the material, and basically
what happens is when light or power goes through
these crystal domains, they reduce each time,
creating a power loss throughout the length of
fiber you’re going through. Micro-gravity suppresses these formations. And doing so creates more of
a mono-crystalline structure, so you don’t have all these domain drops. And you have less of a power
drop over that length of fiber. You know, you can go
trans-Atlantic and trans-Pacific without having repeaters in the lines, like traditional fiber lines do today. If you can imagine providing five, 10, 15 times more bandwidth
down the same line of fiber by using ZBLAN instead of silica, you begin to scratch the surface of the economic potential of ZBLAN. They estimate that a kilogram of ZBLAN could sell for 10s, if not
hundreds of thousands of dollars and that high price per
kilogram is important when it comes to space manufacturing. Historically a barrier to doing a lot of commercial activity in space has been that it costs so much
money to get to space, do things, and then come back. It can literally cost 10s
of thousands of dollars a kilogram to launch, operate, and return. And that’s why things like
ZBLAN are so attractive, because we can sustainably sell them for 10s of thousands
of dollars a kilogram. Meaning at some point, whole factories could be created in space. Receiving raw material from the ground and shipping micro-gravity-enabled
ZBLAN back to Earth. But the problem is, it’s
all still theoretical. Made In Space has been working
on ZBLAN for over four years and has flown four missions to test their manufacturing techniques, with more planned in the future. But they still expect
to be a few years away from producing a product
that could be sold on Earth, let alone scaling that
to larger industries. It’s very interesting and
a little counter-intuitive. The most successful companies in space are the companies that consistently say, “How can I do this on Earth?” There have been many products that started with the vision of actually
manufacturing in space, and ended up with a
discovery phase in space and manufacturing on Earth. And that’s good news for consumers, that’s good news for the
end users of those products, because that reduces cost. You don’t build your manufacturing plant on the most expensive real estate you can possibly get ahold of. You build your manufacturing plant where you can manufacture economically. For Made In Space, though, discovering the first product that can truly be made in space, is more than just profit and loss. The establishment of
space-manufactured ZBLAN as a product line, is core to our vision. That’s the industrialization
of space right there. That’s the Netscape moment of low-earth-orbit commercialization. If in our research and
development for ZBLAN, say we found ways of improving ZBLAN that we could actually
apply terrestrially, like apply in a gravity field, we would be excited about that. For us, we’d take the profits from that, and pile that back in, and
do more cool space stuff. And while the company
is also investigating other materials like ZBLAN
that can be produced in space, they’ve already laid the
groundwork for a whole new way of thinking about in-space manufacturing. And they call it Archinaut. Archinaut is one of many steps toward those broader visions. Archinaut is more of a
capability than a thing. The capability can enable virtually anything you can think of in
terms of structures in space. You can build large things,
small things that are optimized, it doesn’t really matter. Archinaut blends robotic manufacturing with 3D printing, allowing it to create and assemble products in space. Meaning, instead of flying something like, say a satellite to space,
you could create them there. But before Made In Space can use Archinaut as an in-space factory, it needs to turn its vision into a sustainable business. There is no shortage in space of visionaries.
What I really wanna try to achieve here is to
make Mars seem possible. The visionaries that
we are seeing succeed, are the visionaries
that attach their vision to an incremental pathway. We’ve been very fortunate
to work closely with NASA for a number of years in developing gravity-independent
manufacturing technologies. And the first one of those technologies that we really tackled was 3D printing. International Space Station has its own 3D printer, and look at this, astronauts created the first
object to be made with it. It’s a white printer part. The first print that we did was a plate for the printer. It said NASA and it said
Made In Space on it. Is it fair to say the first thing you made in space was marketing material? I mean, we actually kinda joked
that the first thing we did was demonstrate that you could make self-repairing robots in space. To date, Made In Space has created over 200 objects aboard the I.S.S.. And with its second printer, named the Additive Manufacturing Facility, they were able to not only
prove their technology, but turn it into a business. We’ve struck kind of an
interesting deal with them, where we actually retained
ownership of the device, and actually operated it as a service. And printed parts for NASA,
for other individuals, for companies, for schools. So, really starting to build
on it’s this machine shop in space kind of business model. The approach that we’ve
taken at Made In Space has been to have these really
great, this really inspiring, bit vision, but we take that big vision and we decompose that
into digestible chunks. Like, steps along that path
toward these fantastic futures. And that first incremental step for Archinaut is to change how we think about manufacturing satellites. Archinaut One project is
a free-flying satellite, which will manufacture 10-meter booms. And those 10-meter booms
will have solar arrays on them which allow a
small sat to manufacture on the order of about a kilowatt of power. The Archinaut One mission
will launch in 2022. It’s part of a public/private
partnership with NASA. And the project aims to reduce the cost of putting satellites into orbit. While satellites have
been getting smaller, if you need a satellite
that’ll require lots of power, you’ll most likely need
a massive solar array. But large arrays are difficult
to fit into rocket payloads, the so-called tyranny of the fairing. And it gets expensive. One way around this problem
was to spend heavily on engineers to devise solutions for folding arrays into
compact configurations. Then, deploy at their
full size once in space. But all that work and
extra weight on a rocket can add tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars to a launch cost. Archinaut gives
satellite-makers a new option: Include a 3D printer and robotic arm onto their existing
satellites, and let Archinaut build their very large
solar arrays in space. This could reduce the costs
of getting power-hungry satellites into orbit,
and potentially open up whole new industries to space. Probably the most significant factor for the financial success of a space-based or space-related business,
is economies of scale. The more activity there is,
the more feasible it is. Both Made In Space and NASA hopes that Archinaut
will help reduce the cost of doing business in space. But it’s still unclear whether larger and cheaper solar arrays is the answer to finding scale in production. A successful strategy for
manufacturing in space is to demonstrate capabilities, and to have adaptable capabilities that can serve different customers. When you combine that robotic assembly and additive manufacturing,
it really opens the door for customization for clients. Folks may say, hey, I actually
don’t need that much power because of my mission,
but I need a big antennae. Or, I need a large radiator. Archinaut, because it’s general, means that I can provide those services quickly, and at low cost. We hope that folks see what we’re doing and are inspired by it, and say, hey, this is what I need. So yeah, it’d be great
if somebody came to us and said, “This is the
thing that we wanna make.” And we’re like, oh my gosh, that’s the killer app. The hope for Archinaut, just like with ZBLAN and organ printing, is that one of these
businesses can be that spark for space industrialization. I think, once people see the
potential of micro-gravity, I think a lot more people, a
lot more commercial entities will get involved in space research. Because I think it is
such a unique environment, that that different way of
thinking leads to innovation. And so I think you see so much excitement and so much interest because the potential to come up with new products,
new innovations, is real. The ability to manufacture in space means that we break the
tyranny of the launch fairing. And we can now make structures
that are really enormous. Make structures that are
on the size and scale of things that we’re comfortable with and we interact with on
Earth on a consistent basis, you know, larger buildings,
multi-story buildings. Nothing like that exists in space. But we need to be able to make structures and spacecraft and habitats
that are that size, if we are really to
sustainably move into space, move into low-Earth orbit and beyond. And as industry enters low-Earth orbit, we’ll begin to explore
the next financial future. The Moon, Mars, even asteroids, contain potentially invaluable resources. On the next Giant Leap, we’ll
explore the private companies developing the technology
needed for off-world mining. But in order for it to become a business, it’ll take another Giant Leap.

You May Also Like

About the Author: Oren Garnes


  1. Once really big rockets life bfr are flying they can send normal manufacturing equipment on a standard module the manufacturing of structures will take place in very normal workshops no fancy tech

  2. Great content!! Thank you for this. Absolutely fascinating stuff, especially for anyone already interested in STEM and the industrial/manufacturing advances that may come from it.
    Are we witnessing another industrial revolution? Economic historians may think so, seeing parallels with the past, but others may see some of this activity as highly speculative VC/investor driven gambling.
    Watching this is like seeing science fiction and reality overlapping.
    Very thought provoking stuff….

  3. please do something about colonys on moon and mars. ISRU is a big part of that. With MOXIE we are bringing the first ISRU experiment to mars to create O2 from the CO2 atmosphere.

  4. the fairing size constrains are not the only problem with launching strucktures. The second are the high forces that the strukture will go through in a rocket launch. Because in orbit gravety does not imply forces into your struckture, you only need the strength for launch. So strucktures made in space can be much thinner and therefore bigger with the same material required.

  5. Babies created in the womb with their parts 3d printed from a genetic program with their raw materials mined from their mother's body, efficiently done with the input of only 2 people in earth's gravity well. You think these fools would bother to tap back in the genetic code and simply signal itself to reproduce certain parts. The powers that be sure like making things complicated.

  6. None of what was shown was a break through. Printing stuff in space trades density for volume. There are hundreds of ways to do this. Printing is only one of them. This is ore marketing than innovation.

  7. I came here to take some ideas for my undergrad thesis. I wish I will be able to donate my research improve the space technology.

  8. Enjoyed this episode? Watch more Giant Leap:

  9. The future is just getting exciting. I'm 35 and I'm already sad I won't be able to see all these wonderful things.

  10. this could be far away from present day but just imagine factories in space and we use earth just to produce food.(agriculture)

  11. nScrypt is also involved in this project! The main focal point of this tool is nScrypt's Smartpump gizmos that are the dispensing the material and printing the tissue and other bioprints. Without their gizmos this tool would not be able to do what it is doing.

  12. imagine in the future having an organ that was PRINTED IN A SPACE STATION

    thats sounds soo sci fi but it could perfectly become a reality in a couple of years

  13. Yo Bloomberg
    Thank you so much for this series. I meant to watch one and ended up binging……I forget……hours and hours worth.

  14. We need to build a fail safe to keep these efforts from disappearing in a World War or Cataclysmic Natural Event STAT.

  15. This series is so epic. I've heard knowledgeable people talk about the potential for industry in space, but this series has introduced me to companies that are actually aiming their sights at space right now. Thank you so much, Bloomberg! I hope you continue to invest more resources into making videos like this.

  16. Have they attempted to 3d print in an environment using a fluid, such like that of a human womb? Maybe the placenta's fluid is the support structure for creating a child, this could be a way to produce organs too, in a robotic environment mimicking this process? – Does anyone have anything to expand on this idea?

  17. Any commercial enterprise that tries to solve the problem of keeping humans in space will lose competition to those that try to solve the problem of getting humans out of space (unless they are in the business of tourism or something). The Holy Grail for the economic exploitation of space is automation, and I quote Elon Musk, who said the best way to solve a problem is not to have to deal with it in the first place.

  18. Am I the only one who thinks it's funny that they are talking about making undersea fibre optic cables in orbit? I think Starlink makes far more sense economically though I don't doubt there are other uses for that fibre.

  19. "New opportunities in space"! Mining in space for profits, I have been hearing that for decades! Still waiting! Space mining with have to be automated because mankind can not live in space for extended periods of time! This is a fact! There will be no bases on the moon where people are living, including Mars, because of the reduced gravity or no gravity! This is obvious, and ignoring it, is not going to make it go away! Most of the companies that get government funding will go bust, management gets their money and we get the bill, in a country that is already over $22 Trillion in debt and growing!

    Government revenue reductions and increased spending for the MIC to a point that the debt will be unserviceable! It's inevitable, this is not a unfortunate coincidence, this is intentionally engineered, for political reasons!

    I to am excited by the ventures in space, but we have invested a great deal of effort and resources in the ISS, and what have we gotten from it? NOTHING that is even close to what was put into it! Left to the MIC, we would be launching a few astronauts into apace for the next hundred years, because there is so much money to be made by soaking the government! For example, did you know that NASA is obligated to contract with ULA, which is around three times higher than SpaceX, which was one of the main drives of Elon Musk with SpaceX., to actually start commercialization of space for profit from commercialization instead of profiting from soaking the government!

    Although I think that long term habitation of the moon and Mars, as in bases, is a fools errands, I am very much excited about SpaceX's space ventures, there will be no long term bases on the moon or Mars, unless they are constantly resupplied and crew changes, on the moon, and the Mars bases is a lost cause because mankind can not live long term in a no gravity or reduced gravity environment!

    We have been bombarded with all the manufacturing opprutunities and all the wonderful things that can be produced in micro gravity, but what has it produced, NOTHING! Don't get me wrong , I am for the ISS, but as far as opportunities it has produced, is for soaking the government via politics! Contrary what one may hear, in actually most government investments in corporations or strart ups, have been paid back with interest, as with SpaceX! Let us hope that this also pays off!

  20. Let us go to space my capitalism economy baby, we have a universe to own it's kinda boring on earth here, and it's our specie destiny any way, Let us live as a specie not nations.

  21. For anyone that has been in a junk yard, one might ask who is going to clean up all the what once were raw earth materials??

  22. Manufacturing in space will not come of age until the raw materials are obtained from space.

    Launching raw materials into space from Earth for processing will always be a boutique-level endeavor.

    Once we start mining raw materials off planet for refining and manufacture there, then we will have hit a widely-useful industrial scale of production in microgravity.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *