Space Manufacturing - History

History

During the Soyuz 6 mission, Russian astronauts performed the first welding experiments in space. Three different welding processes were tested using a hardware unit called Vulkan. The tests included welding aluminum, titanium, and stainless steel.

The Skylab mission, launched in May 1973, served as a laboratory to perform various space manufacturing experiments. The station was equipped with a materials processing facility that included a multi-purpose electric furnace, a crystal growth chamber, and an electron beam gun. Among the experiments to be performed was research on molten metal processing; photographing the behavior of ignited materials in zero-gravity; crystal growth; processing of immiscible alloys; brazing of stainless steel tubes, electron beam welding, and the formation of spheres from molten metal. The crew spent a total of 32 man-hours on materials science and space manufacturing investigation during the mission.

The Space Studies Institute began hosting a bi-annual Space Manufacturing Conference in 1977.

Microgravity research in materials processing continued in 1983 using the Spacelab facility. This module has been carried into orbit 26 times aboard the Space Shuttle, as of 2002. In this role the shuttle has served as an interim, short-duration research platform in lieu of the upcoming International Space Station.

In February 1994 and September 1995, the Wake Shield Facility was carried into orbit by the Space Shuttle. This demonstration platform used the vacuum created in the orbital wake to manufacture thin films of gallium arsenide and aluminum gallium arsenide.

On May 31, 2005, the recoverable, unmanned Foton-M2 laboratory was launched into orbit. Among the experiments were crystal growth and the behavior of molten-metal in weightlessness.

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