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Optical KDP crystal made in space now on sale

28 Jun 2022

Redwire opens new commercial market as it announces first sale of optical crystal fabricated on the International Space Station.

Redwire, a developer of space infrastructure “for the next generation space economy”, has announced the first sale of its space-manufactured optical potassium dihydrogen phosphate (KDP) crystal to researchers at the Center for Electron Microscopy and Analysis (CEMAS), an electron microscopy facility at Ohio State University.

The transaction recorded two grams of space-manufactured crystal were sold to Ohio State. Based on the sample size sold, the space-manufactured crystals have an approximate value of $2 million per kilogram.

The space-enabled optical crystal was manufactured in Redwire’s Industrial Crystallization Facility onboard the International Space Station. This transaction marks the first time that a space-enabled materials product has been sold on Earth—a significant milestone for space commercialization and a demand signal for Redwire’s space-based manufacturing, the company claimed.

Redwire says that space-manufactured optical crystals could provide significant improvements to high-power, large laser systems used on Earth. The high-energy laser market is seeing strong growth with an increasing number of terrestrial applications from advanced manufacturing and machining to weapons systems. These laser systems are enabled by high efficiency laser lenses that are produced using optical crystals.

Escaping gravity problems

Currently, optical crystals manufactured on Earth have lower damage thresholds due to gravity-induced inclusions and defects which limits the output of high-power laser systems since the lenses are subjected to laser-induced damage. Space-manufactured optical crystals could improve system performance because they have a higher laser damage threshold due to fewer inclusions and defects because of the space manufacturing process.

Andrew Rush, Redwire’s President and COO, said, “This is an exciting milestone that validates our commercialization plan for manufacturing space-enabled products in low-Earth orbit and further stimulates demand for in-space production.”

Dr. John Horack, Professor and Neil Armstrong Chair in Aerospace at Ohio State University, said, “This is a watershed moment for space commercialization. While we are continuing to refine production techniques for a variety of products, we are now expanding our focus beyond pathfinder demonstrations to increasing production of space-enabled products sustainably, profitably, and at scale. Redwire’s orbital factory is open for business, and we are expanding our on-orbit capabilities to serve new markets.”

He added, “The ability for Ohio State to work with space-grown crystals improves our ability to grow CEMAS as a signature materials characterization and research facility unlike any other, for space-based and terrestrial materials, addressing complex challenges in domains ranging from cancer to planetary science.”

CEMAS researchers will study the space-grown crystal and compare it to Earth-grown potassium dihydrogen phosphate (KDP) crystals using aberration-corrected electron microscopy to observe atomic-scale differences in impurities and defects between the two materials, something that has not yet been achieved.

The space-manufactured crystal presents an opportunity for CEMAS to build the group's capabilities for analyzing materials manufactured in space and those that could be returned from asteroids, the Moon and Mars in the future. The insights from this research could also inform the development process of space-manufactured optical crystals to optimize future products.

Launched in early 2021, ICF is a commercial in-space manufacturing facility designed to demonstrate microgravity-enhanced techniques for growing inorganic KDP crystals that are commonly used in high-energy laser systems on Earth. The facility is just one of several Redwire ISS payloads developed with the purpose of catalyzing and scaling demand for commercial capabilities in LEO by producing high-value products for terrestrial use.

Video explainer: transforming space infrastructure

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