Simanaitis Says

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YESTERDAY, BENEFITS AND CHALLENGES of space manufacturing were introduced. Today, NASA takes them aboard the International Space Station, where, among other oddities, water doesn’t “drip.” Other researchers explore the benefits of magnetic “gears,” especially in the isolation of space. 

Building Bigger Structures—In Space. NASA continues the tale in “Cutting-edge Experiments Ride SpaceV’s 26th CRS Mission to Space Station,” November 22, 2022: “On Earth, gravity deforms large objects such as the beams used in large-scale construction. Microgravity enables fabrication of longer and thinner structures without this deformation. Extrusion demonstrates a technology using liquid resin to create shapes and forms that cannot be created on Earth. Photocurable resin is injected into pre-made flexible forms and a camera captures footage of the process. The capability for using these forms could enable in-space construction of structures such as space stations, solar arrays, and equipment.”

Surface Tension in Space. Without the effect of gravity, a liquid depends only upon its own molecular behavior. “Pouring” doesn’t make any sense, as shown in a most illustrative “Surface Tension On-Board the International Space Station,” NASAeClip, December 11, 2009. 

In microgravity, water’s surface tension forms it in the most efficient shape, a sphere. Image from NASA.

Made for Space. Here on Earth, other researchers have been designing trouble-free highly reliable designs for use in extraterrestrial conditions. James Badcock described in Newsweek Magazine, December 23, 2015, that magnetic bearings may provide transmission systems that are immune to wear and friction and require no lubrication. 

Researcher Efrén Díez Jiménez and colleagues at Madrid’s Carlos III University described how their Magdrive “substitutes geared teeth with magnets that repel and attract each other so that the transmission of forces between the moving parts is achieved without contact.” Even overload is no problem; Jiménez said, “If the axle is blocked, the parts simply slide amongst themselves, but nothing breaks.” 

A Magdrive has no toothed gears; magnetism attracts and repels components by design. Image from Carlos III University.

Badcock noted, “Magdrive has superconductors integrated into the structure in order to keep the axles floating with stable repulsion forces. These not only allow the gear to rotate, but also give it stability to deal with oscillatory movements or other possible destabilising forces.” 

Potential uses, Badcock said, include “robot arms or antenna positions, where high-precision movements are needed or when contamination from lubricants is undesired.” Jiménez observed, “Our prototype can work at -210 degrees Celsius, in a vacuum and bearing weight, with zero backlash, meaning perfect precision can be achieved.”

Hence, we’re learning both to benefit from the  microgravity of space as well as to cope with its isolation. ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2023

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