Out of This World Manufacturing: From Space to the Moon!

A poll the Pew Research Center released this month shows that a strong majority of Americans — 72% — consider investments in space exploration technology to be worthwhile and beneficial for the country’s future. The same poll found that the top priorities Americans identify for space-related research are in preventive approaches to climate change and avoiding catastrophic asteroid collisions. While these may be important aspects of a robust space program, something a lot more proactive and innovative is on the horizon: manufacturing in space.

It may sound like the fantasy dreams of someone who watched too many episodes of The Jetsons. However, the reality is that our growing use of automated technology is quickly making once far-flung dreams achievable, and the time to start creating the foundations for a future that’s out of this world is right now if we don’t want to get left behind.

Is a new space race on the horizon?

Many are hearing echoes of the 1960s space race in discussions of space exploration today. With China and other advancing countries eyeing the stars for their own manufacturing plans, the U.S. may once again find itself racing to be first.

What’s changed is the funding. In the previous race to the moon, the U.S. federal funding for space exploration made up a significant portion of research funding — equivalent to $150 billion in today’s dollars. While President Trump’s National Space Council reconstitution signals a possible reinvestment on the horizon, private enterprise has surged to fill the funding gap.

Paul Allen, Jeff Bezos, and Elon Musk are among the most frequently mentioned names in today’s space race. Their high-profile — and sometimes almost cartoonishly showy — antics draw headline coverage and a mix of fascination and mockery. Their progress, though, is laying the groundwork for a future that could look much different from our present, and manufacturing is likely to be at the forefront of such changes.

Why manufacture in space?

The benefits of manufacturing in space, an on the moon specifically, are numerous. Bezos is quick to point out the potential for 24/7 solar cells, water storage beneath the surface, and the wide open space that could make building vast production networks easy. In his mind, Earth is not an ideal location for “heavy industry” and could instead be used for residential and commercial purposes, moving more serious production work off-site … way off-site.

Could it really happen?

The question doesn’t seem to be as much “if” but “when” these possibilities could become reality. With the proper mix of funding, technological advancements, and regulations, production could begin at any time and be functional within a few decades.

In fact, NASA researcher Dr. Phil Metzger explains that relying on automated robots to extract materials and expanding their operations over time could greatly reduce the most cost-prohibitive part of such a plan, the transportation of materials into space. As machine learning continues to advance, manufacturers could harness natural resources on the moon and nearby asteroids — hydrogen, carbon, silicon, and metals — to create a vast network of facilities without the cost of shipping materials from Earth.

As we once again race to the moon, here on Earth you can always count on the professionals at Global Electronic Services. Contact us for all your industrial electronic, servo motor, AC and DC motor, hydraulic, and pneumatic needs — and don’t forget to like and follow us on Facebook!
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