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Commercial manufacturing of microgravity-enabled optical fiber has enormous potential, both on Earth and for space exploration. The Redwire Fiber Optics miniature fiber-pulling machine harnesses the unique properties of the microgravity environment to produce an optical fiber orders of magnitude better than what can be produced on Earth. In January 2018, the first ZBLAN optical fiber was manufactured on the International Space Station.
When produced in a strong gravitational environment, such as Earth, exotic optical fiber is subject to tiny flaws. These crystals appear in the fiber and significantly increase signal loss. When considering data transmission lines such as long-haul communication lines that can span thousands of miles, these flaws cause large enough attenuation of the transmitted light to make the system commercially infeasible.
Through privately funded, multi-year internal research and development work, Redwire has developed the expertise to successfully produce large quantities of high-grade optical fiber. MIS is partnered with Thorlabs, the industry leader in ZBLAN preforms and production of the material for terrestrial uses, to rapidly industrialize production of optical fiber in space.
Commercial manufacturing of microgravity-enabled optical fiber has enormous potential, for both use on Earth and space exploration. Our fluoride-based, space-enabled product could offer 10 to 100 times better signal loss than traditional, terrestrially produced silica-based fiber. When considering data transmission lines, such as long-haul communication lines that can span thousands of miles, these flaws cause large enough attenuation of the transmitted light to make the system commercially infeasible. In space, ZBLAN optical fiber can be produced without these crystals, providing superior data transmission capabilities compared to both Earth-produced ZBLAN and traditional silica fiber optic lines.
This microgravity-produced fiber has numerous applications, including transatlantic telecommunications, high-speed internet, lasers, as well as enhancing technologies in space. The establishment of space manufacturing of ZBLAN as a commercial product line is core to our vision of industrializing low Earth orbit.
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