According to officials, IIT Madras has established a research group to develop technology for manufacturing products in outer space or extraterrestrial places and address the country’s current shortages in this field.
According to the team, India is a global leader in the development and application of technologies for launch vehicles and satellites.
However, they warned that in the near future, technologies will be needed to manufacture products and assemblies in space and at extraterrestrial places for use both in space and on Earth.
The researchers plan to overcome these issues by creating a wide range of manufacturing methods, such as 3D printing of metals and functional optical polymers, water-free concrete made from martial soils, diamond single crystals, solar cells, and metal foams, they said.
The Extra-Terrestrial Manufacturing (ExTem) research group will work on the first ever Microgravity Drop Tower Research Facility in India, which was constructed at the National Centre for Combustion Research and Development at IIT, Madras, and is one of six drop towers throughout the world.
The ExTeM research group has been established by the Institute of Eminence (IoE) project.
WHY DO WE NEED THIS?
“The human endeavour to explore space like never before, including creating settlements in faraway locations, will require extensive time for humans to spend on-board a spacecraft just to reach there.
“Such long term human space missions are feasible only with reduced earth-reliance and this mandates capability to manufacture and fabricate needed products in space, in orbit, at extraterrestrial locations and recycle materials effectively,” Sathyan Subbiah, Principal Investigator of the ExTeM Research Group at IIT Madras, told PTI.
“The centre is currently conducting several drop tower experiments to test manufacturing processes such as 3D printing of various engineering materials (metals, polymers), metal foaming, and diamond coating among others, to enable manufacturing in outer space,” he said.
“In addition, the lure of microgravity and the advantages it offers to control, and tailor material structures cannot be ignored,” he added.
CHALLENGES IN SPACE MANUFACTURING
Due to the limits given by restricted space, limited power, microgravity effects, and limitations to trace process inputs and outputs and effectively recycle by-products, manufacturing technologies required for space will differ significantly from those required on Earth.
“The race to space, with a vision to inhabit and exploit the extra-terrestrial (outside earth) spaces is the key focus among the scientific community in this century,” Subbiah said.
“The hurdles likely to be faced are high cost of transporting resources from Earth and limited availability of resources at ET,” he added.
“To overcome these challenges, we need the extraterrestrial manufacturing (ExTeM) capability, to maximize the energy and material resources utilization available,” he said.
According to the researchers, such procedures will be utilised to make things in the future that will be manufactured commercially by private companies utilising specifically constructed manufacturing factories floating in orbit around the planet or at any extraterrestrial sites.
“Scientific research and development need to be conducted under microgravity conditions for addressing the above challenges encompassing safety (for example, fire safety), understanding natural fluid and material behaviours, including under energy-driven processing conditions,” said Amit Kumar, co-principal investigator of the research group.
“Of the various methods used for obtaining microgravity conditions, drop towers offer a ground-based microgravity platform,” he said.
“Cost-effectiveness, short turnaround time and high quality microgravity make drop tower ideal for sustained microgravity experiments at least at the first level and therefore easily accessible to the academic and space organizations equally,” he added.
(With inputs from PTI)