The recent explosive growth in the satellite and launch industries has led to a corresponding increase in microgravity processing interest and opportunities (e.g. Virgin Galactic, Space Station commercial opportunities, etc.). A host of commercial entities are now actively exploring uses of the microgravity environment in near-Earth orbit for commercial product applications, many of which have joint military applications. This topic will explore both potential dual use commercial/military microgravity products, as well as the fundamental science underpinning the microgravity processing environment.
Over the past 30 years, researchers have conducted hundreds of experiments examining the effect of space, specifically the lack of gravity, on various processes and materials. NASA has taken the lead for this work in the U.S. with the majority of microgravity experiments performed on the Space Shuttle and International Space Station (ISS). In the course of this research, many types of materials and processes have had their behavior studied in microgravity (e.g. protein crystals, alloys, semiconductor materials, thin films, etc.). Although the pace of the research was significantly hampered by the slow pace of space flight activities, many positive results were obtained.
The objective of this effort is the leveraging of commercial activities and utilization of the microgravity environment to produce improved products/results in relevant DoD technology areas that cannot be accomplished on the ground. Several possible areas/examples are:
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