back to article Miles of optical fiber crafted aboard ISS marks manufacturing first

Fiber optics of the future may be manufactured in space if the results of a recent ISS experiment prove its feasibility. After a month-long trial run of equipment produced by space manufacturing startup Flawless Photonics, NASA said it was able to make more than seven miles (11.9 km) of ZBLAN optical fibers with a presumptive …

  1. Gene Cash Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Great... a new level for audio-phools to strive for. Oxygen free unidirectional wide spectrum gold plated optical fiber MADE IN SPAAAACCCEE!

    1. Neil Barnes Silver badge
      Alien

      But in space, nobody can hear you scream.

      (at the price!)

  2. AlanSh

    Space factories - excellent

    The first real (to me) achievment from the ISS. Something that is tangible NOW and can be commercialised. [Assuming it works, of course].

  3. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge
    Trollface

    Make it faster

    If you could make the fiber fast enough on Earth, it could free-fall in a curve that experiences no gravity until it's cooled.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Make it faster

      You get about 30 seconds of freefall on the vomit comet. So, you'd have to either draw the full fiber in that time, or do some kind of stop start, which sounds pretty tricky to do while keeping the fiber consistent. Maybe with different aircraft, you could increase the 30 seconds, but there'll be a limit to what's achievable without finding yourself in orbit.

      1. phuzz Silver badge

        Re: Make it faster

        I think their plan was to draw the fibre so fast, that the resulting fibre would zoom out of the machine fast enough to enter it's own freefall trajectory.

        Presumably downrange you'd have to have a cable coiling machine that was just as fast.

  4. Locomotion69

    Viable business case?

    The proof on concept is done.

    I am so curious to find out how this can be transferred into a viable business case. I see the potential, but what about the effort and cost?

    Launch a factory in space, manufacture the fiber, return to Earth surface, retrieval, ground control, ... the list goes on.

    NASA, can we have one of those ancient Space Shuttles? There may be a second life for it as orbital production platform.

    1. Keith Langmead

      Re: Viable business case?

      If they're already selling the normal ZBLAN at $1000 per meter and the hoped for benefits from this method are realised, I'd have to guess they'd be able to demand significantly more money for zero-g ZBLAN. Even with the cost of getting the materials into space and the product back again, that makes me think it could easily be a very profitable venture. Especially considering weight vs value for the fibre, where weight tends to be the limiting factor for most space based manufacturing.

      Zero use (at least now) to most of us, but for some of the big players with deep pockets looking at potentially slashing the TTL and increasing the speeds of their long distance connections... what wouldn't they pay for that advantage over the competition.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Artemis anyone?

    The Andy Weir novel, not the NASA epic.

  6. Mike 137 Silver badge

    Two issues?

    The solution to the gravity/crystallisation problem I can readily understand, but how does manufacture in space affect the purity issue?

    1. Grogan Silver badge

      Re: Two issues?

      My educated guess would be that the purity requirements wouldn't be quite as stringent as impurities would be less likely to seed the unwanted crystallization.

  7. Crypto Monad Silver badge

    It'll have to get a lot cheaper, if the primary advantage of ZBLAN is lower attenuation, and hence the ability to have longer single spans without repeaters.

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Quantum communications can't _have_ repeaters. This is the killer app the fibre is needed for

  8. Fred Goldstein

    Applying this to undersea cables would seem a bit expensive, never mind issues of amplification or repair. Someone once summarized the cost of building an undersea cable thusly: To cross the Atlantic, take $10 bills and line them up end to end. To cross the Pacific, use $100s. At $1000/meter per strand that raises the bar another big step.

  9. Grogan Silver badge

    $1000/m, what a great deal! (Said no one, ever, about anything lol)

    As working in space gets more commonplace, it will probably be cheaper to manufacture them in zero or very low G than on Earth, though.

    Better get Amazon Prime though, shipping costs will be a bitch :-)

    1. Roger Greenwood

      Hang on, why don't they just dig down to the centre of the earth which also must have zero gravity and make it there? Do I have to think of everything?

      1. Andy Non Silver badge
        Coat

        That's very deep thinking.

      2. Mike007 Bronze badge

        The air conditioning bill would make that option less profitable.

        1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge
          Joke

          Core blimey!

  10. Benegesserict Cumbersomberbatch Silver badge

    Product of USA

    and the Azores, and Portugal, and Spain, and Algeria, and Libya, and Egypt, and Sudan, and Ethiopia, and Somalia, and the Maldives, and Australia, and New Zealand, and Fiji, and Samoa, and the USA (Hawaii), and the USA again (mainland)...

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