Operating a Manufacturing Facility in Space; Verification, Validation, and Product Signoff

R. Rughani, N. Gladden, D.A. Barnhart
United States

Keywords: manufacturing, valdiation, verification


“In-Space Manufacturing”, or the ability to build goods, products, assemblies, sub-systems or full systems in space, is pursued by a number of companies today. Leveraging the unique thermal, electromagnetic, gravitational, pressure, and contaminant-free environments accessible on-orbit promises the creation of cutting-edge materials and technologies, new pharmaceutical products, biological innovations, materials science advances etc. The challenges of starting new endeavors in manufacturing in Space are similar to that on Earth: a need for sufficient infrastructure or facilities, clear identification of the necessary supply chain(s), and validation and verification of the processes of manufacturing. Compared to terrestrial manufacturing all the normal issues with development of products, goods, sub-assemblies or full system assemblies are exacerbated by much longer time scales to get to space, the need to build and “fly the factory”, the challenge of returning Earth-bound products safely, and higher capital required to affect the creation of a market that doesn’t exist today. One area of critical importance is the ability for the facility, plant or platform to verify and validate (V&V) that a manufacturing process has occurred successfully and with sufficient quality. Terrestrial manufacturing takes advantage of human in-person inspection of almost all end use products after “build”. Additional non-invasive processes exist (i.e. CT Scan or radar imaging) that a manufacturing product goes through to validate the various attributes of material saturation, temperature and fluid settling have achieved the highest quality result. In space this set of V&V processes must be built into either the manufacturing pilot platform or into individual assembly level processes. The Arkisys Port Module platform is designed to enable multiple and varying V&V processes to be applied both to the individual subsystem level and at the system level for items produced, whether inside a heterogenous “chamber” or as a product/element that is exposed externally to the manufacturing process. The ability to validate and verify at each of the key steps within almost any build, extrude, make or assembly process is critical to keep wasted parts/product or errors in the overall manufacturing process down. As in terrestrial manufacturing plants there exists a balance between external examination and internal built-in autonomous validation. Arkisys has worked to view the manufacturing ecosystem as a holistic enterprise, which includes the source of materials that make up a manufactured product in space, the methodology to transport the product from Earth, the storage/manipulation/removal of the materials upon reaching our Ports, insertion into the “pilot manufacturing plant” process either external to our platform or internal, manipulation of various elements if a multi-part manufacturing process, and finally the storage and subsequent transport off the Port for either Earth return or other space destination. Our talk will share approaches to each of the key “production” processes and options for either indigenous or external V&V applied to each, including examination of what a “facility” or platform in orbit that supports manufacturing must consider in terms of requirements in stability in thermal/vibration, manipulation, storage, process information storage and flow to ground, etc.