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ISS National Lab-Sponsored Optical Glass Fabrication Moves the Future of In-Space Manufacturing

CAPE CANAVERAL (FL), February 14, 2024 – New fiber optics experiments sponsored by the International Space Station (ISS) National Laboratory launched on Northrop Grumman’s 20th Commercial Resupply Services (NG-20) mission. These experiments will test Flawless Photonics, Inc.’s unique approach to solving the issue of gravity-induced defects in optical glass products manufactured on Earth.

To eliminate such defects, Flawless Photonics aims to validate the company’s method for manufacturing various glass materials in space, beginning with ZBLAN. ZBLAN is a type of optical glass with many applications, such as communications, sensors, and laser technology. It can perform up to 100 times better than silica, but current terrestrial restrictions limit its full potential.

“We have uncovered a new approach to manufacturing ZBLAN in space that promises to unlock its full capabilities and radically advance the optical fiber market,” said Michael Vestel, the principal investigator of the project and CTO of Flawless Photonics. “Testing our unique approach on the space station will provide crucial data to advance breakthrough materials for telecommunications, defense, medical devices, and quantum computing.”

Flawless Photonics seeks to develop fiber manufacturing processes that outperform existing options. The real-world benefits of these fibers on Earth are substantial, promising to revolutionize optical communication technologies, Vestel said.

Hubert Moser, senior director of engineering at the company’s Luxembourg lab, added, “This mission is a crucial milestone for Flawless Photonics. Its primary focus is deploying our cutting-edge autonomous manufacturing platform and establishing new paradigms in optical fiber technology and furthering in-space manufacturing.”

Optical fiber drawn during the experiments will return on SpaceX’s 30th Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) mission in April. The Flawless Photonics manufacturing platform will stay on the space station for future use.

The NG-20 mission launched from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on January 30 at 12:07 pm EST onboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. This mission included more than 20 ISS National Lab-sponsored payloads. Please visit our launch page to learn more about all ISS National Lab-sponsored research on this mission.

To download a high-resolution photo for this release, click here.

About the International Space Station (ISS) National Laboratory:

The International Space Station (ISS) is a one-of-a-kind laboratory that enables research and technology development not possible on Earth. As a public service enterprise, the ISS National Laboratory® allows researchers to leverage this multiuser facility to improve quality of life on Earth, mature space-based business models, advance science literacy in the future workforce, and expand a sustainable and scalable market in low Earth orbit. Through this orbiting national laboratory, research resources on the ISS are available to support non-NASA science, technology, and education initiatives from U.S. government agencies, academic institutions, and the private sector. The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space™ (CASIS™) manages the ISS National Lab, under Cooperative Agreement with NASA, facilitating access to its permanent microgravity research environment, a powerful vantage point in low Earth orbit, and the extreme and varied conditions of space. To learn more about the ISS National Lab, visit our website.

As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, CASIS accepts corporate and individual donations to help advance science in space for the benefit of humanity. For more information, visit our donations page.

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