Friday, 21 March 2014
Manufacturing in weightlessness
Do you manufacture any products or components where weightlessness or low gravity might be of benefit?
Over 40 years ago, a professor at Princeton University named Gerard O’Neill posed a question to a study group of new students, asking them; “Is a planetary surface the right place for an expanding technological civilisation?”.
Somewhat surprisingly, the answer turned out to be “No”.
A better place, it seemed, was a structure like a space station, but on a massive scale. Further studies produced designs for space colonies housing from 10,000 to 10,000,000 people.
The studies were deliberately restricted to the technology of the time, so that no-one could claim that the ideas were unfeasible due to relying on materials that had not yet been invented.
However, since the designs that were published in the mid-1970s there have been many advances in all kinds of technology, and I am part of a study group at the British Interplanetary Society to reexamine and update the original studies.
A major factor in the rejection of a planetary surface was that out in free space the energy of the Sun would be available all the time. The Sun’s heat can be easily focussed to provide temperatures up to 5,000ºC, and sunlight can be converted to provide virtually unlimited electric power. In addition, manufacturing can take under weightless conditions, or in units which can be rotated to provide various levels of gravity. Raw materials can be obtained from the Moon and the asteroids, and finished products “exported” to the surface of the Earth.
As part of the current project, the study group is collating information on the demand for spacebased manufacturing, and the reason I am writing this is to ask if you can suggest any manufacturing processes that might benefit from taking place under such circumstances. Do you manufacture any products or components where weightlessness or low gravity might be of benefit?
Can you think of any others?
I would be very happy to discuss this with you or any of your colleagues. You can contact me by email at email@example.com.
I look forward to hearing from you.