Space Tango, a Kentucky based company who specialises in research and manufacturing in the microgravity environment, has just announced its intentions to launch an autonomous manufacturing facility in low Earth orbit.
Called ST-42, the company said that its first orbital platform, “aims to harness the unique environment of microgravity to produce high value products across industries.”
What sort of products will this encompass? The possibilities should be quite extensive given Space Tango’s current expertise.
For the past few years the company has been a permanent presence on the International Space Station (ISS), by way of their TangoLabs™. TangoLab-1 is housed on the ISS’s Destiny module and TangoLab-2 lodges on the US destiny module.
Room on the ISS is of a premium – there are no exuberantly-spaced Earth-Sized laboratories bolted on the ISS, just compacted research modules that on average typically stretch around 10-12 metres in length.
As such, the TangoLab facilities are a workplace for research projects that can operate on a very small scale – a 10 centimetre cube to be exact. These smart containers are called CubeLabs™ and once operational, the CubeLabs get on with the task of running the experiment to provide near real-time data and monitoring capabilities either fully automatically until it returns to Earth or manually via controls from the ground.
A whole host of industries from life sciences, physical sciences, flow chemistry, biomedical, and materials manufacturing use these condensed CubeLabs™ to further their research beyond the confines of Earth.
Not only does Space Tango provide the hardware for these experiments but they also guide researchers through the process of designing, integrating, and operating their experiments on the ISS, making them a one-stop shop for any academic institution, commercial for-profit company, or philanthropic organisations hoping to take advantage of a microgravity environment.
Space Tango have had such success with their TangoLabs that they have decided to up the game by launching their own scaleable manufacturing platform; a move the company sees will revolutionise industries here on Earth, while opening the doors to a new sector in the space industry.
“This platform is the logical extension of this work and will create a new category of capabilities for LEO commercialization in the space economy,” said Twyman Clements, president and CEO of Space Tango.
ST-42 is slated for launch in mid-2020, however this free-flying spacecraft could be the first of many, as multiple versions with the same exterior but different interiors adapted for specific applications, are also being considered.