The Impact of Space-based Manufacturing on Future Materials

Space-based manufacturing has opened up new possibilities for the creation of innovative materials that are not readily available on Earth. A recent study published in the journal npj Microgravity highlights the collaborative efforts of a global team of researchers from various institutions, including the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge and Argonne national laboratories, Materials Development, Inc., NASA, JAXA, ISIS Neutron and Muon Source, Alfred University, and the University of New Mexico. This team has set a new standard for conducting experiments that involve producing materials in space, rather than for space.

One key aspect of the study involved the use of levitators to suspend material samples during experiments on the International Space Station (ISS). This technique allowed researchers to avoid interference from contact with other materials and produce unconventional glasses in microgravity. By utilizing a combination of techniques that included neutrons, X-rays, and powerful microscopes, researchers were able to compare glass samples made in space with those made on Earth.

The study revealed that glass, unlike crystalline solids, has an unusual atomic arrangement that is not uniform. Its unique structure makes it a versatile material that can be used in various forms, including polymers, oxides, and metallic compositions. The research team experimented with two oxides of neodymium and titanium, discovering their potential for optical applications. These findings have paved the way for exploring new possibilities in the field of glass science and optical materials.

Neutrons and X-rays played a crucial role in analyzing the structure of the space glass samples. Neutrons helped in visualizing the lighter elements, such as oxygen, while X-rays aided in observing the heavier elements, like neodymium and titanium. The combination of these techniques allowed researchers to gain insights into the arrangement of atoms within the samples, showcasing the unique atomic networks present in the space glass.

As we delve further into space-based manufacturing and material science, the role of neutrons in unlocking the mysteries of matter becomes increasingly significant. Understanding how materials behave in different environments, such as space, can lead to the development of novel materials with enhanced properties. Researchers emphasize the importance of exploring new frontiers in material science to harness the full potential of space-based manufacturing.

The collaborative efforts of researchers from around the world have demonstrated the immense potential of space-based manufacturing in shaping the future of materials science. By leveraging the capabilities of advanced instruments like NOMAD and beamlines at facilities like the SNS and APS, scientists have made significant strides in understanding the atomic structure of materials produced in space. This research opens up new avenues for innovation in optical materials, devices, and applications, laying the foundation for future breakthroughs in the field of material science.


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