S(pace)aaS: The Future of On-Orbit Technologies

I had the great fortune of visiting the International Space Station Research & Development Conference in San Francisco this week [1]. The week focused on the promise and future that space offered in the realm of technology advancement. This ranged from space mining of rare earth materials all the way to privatized space stations for leisure and astronaut training. However, by far the most intriguing conversation came way of Lexington, KY and Space Tango. Space Tango seeks to leverage the unique physical properties offered by space to initiate a new manufacturing revolution. In their pitch they explain how this sort of new paradigm has happened many times before. Beginning in the 1200’s with magnetism and moving through other developments such as vacuum technology, and most recently wavelength manipulation to enable the internet and cellular explosions. Space Tango sees the microgravity properties of on-orbit manufacturing in the same vein. Just a few of the unique applications so far include [2]:

  1. Fiber Optic Cable: Microgravity allows for fiber components to settle at consistent rate allowing purer, controlled crystal formation.
  2. Retinal Implants: Gravity interferes with the homogeneity of protein layers, however, Multi-layer films in microgravity yield consistency across implant
  3. Biological growth: many plants for different genetic bods when germinated in microgravity. This enabled unique properties that are presumed to have significant impacts  to the pharmaceutical industry.

Beyond microgravity, the lack of atmospheric properties in space has significant implications for the future of quantum computing. As we learned from Jeff Welser in lecture, one of the greatest challenges currently for quantum computing is the maintaining of quantum decoherence. Such applications in space can make use of the void to potentially greatly extend the current reaches of operational time.  While large challenges still exist with respect to the necessary radiation shielding, the promise of space based quantum computing is alluring [3].

Made in Space is another company changing the way on-orbit manufacturing takes place. But rather than sending their products back to earth, their focus is on creating a sustainable supply chain for the ISS and larger scale space colonization [4]. One the huge challenges facing further space structures is the cost of flying materials in the final form into orbit. Made In Space challenges that assumption and is seeking to make additive manufacturing the standard means to develop space systems. This requires highly specialized and calibrated means of production that themselves are very impressive technology not to mention the incredible structures they create.     

Software as a Service totally redefined the means through which companies could interact with the digital domain. I would say after my week at the ISSR&D conference Space as a Service is doing the same. Whether is flying sand into orbit and having perfectly pure fiber iotice cable return, or printing the next space station on the ISS, there is great promise in the future of technologies developed on-orbit.


[1] Issconference.org. (2018). ISSR&D Conference | San Francisco, July 23-26, 2018. [online] Available at: https://www.issconference.org/ [Accessed 27 Jul. 2018].

[2] Space Tango. (2018). Space Tango | TangoLab. [online] Available at: https://spacetango.com/tangolab/ [Accessed 27 Jul. 2018].

[3] The National Interest. (2018). Quantum Computing and the New Space Race. [online] Available at: https://nationalinterest.org/feature/quantum-computing-the-new-space-race-26349 [Accessed 27 Jul. 2018].

[4] Made In Space. (2018). Large Space Structures. [online] Available at: http://madeinspace.us/archinaut/ [Accessed 27 Jul. 2018].



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7 comments on “S(pace)aaS: The Future of On-Orbit Technologies”

  1. Space exploration and traveling are imperative events that are going on and progressing every day in our life. Incorporating softwares and AI would definitely facilitate the process of making future insight into what we are going to explore more in the space and how we can legitimately utilize the resources from the space to live a better life. However, practical expertise and related cooperation are still needed at the first phase of machine learning to correctly the models that machines are building. Casting more insight and vision towards to the farther future is really what we are seeking for nowadays.


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  2. The developments in space manufacturing and other commercial activities are certainly exciting. Personally, with the privatisation of space industry I am optimistic that the space industry will grow fairly fast. What do you think is the different time frame for these services to realize?

    1. Joshua,

      Thank you for your comment. There are couple things at play when thinking about timelines. The first is how much longer the ISS can sustain research/development in its current form. During this time enough demand signals (use cases) must be found in order to encourage more investment and expedite innovation in this domain. Additionally, there is the need to find a follow-on, more sustainable platform. This could either be private space stations or possibly temporary capsule that could orbit for a while and manufacture the necessary goods then return to earth. Both of these play an intertwined role when thinking about timelines. I would say the 5 year range is reasonable for use cases to develop then about 7-10 for more sustainable means of development.


  3. Space is fascinating, out of reach, mysterious, powerful…and precisely because of that, the space industry is so conservative and so cautious about research and introducing new technologies. I am currently managing a research program that involves satellite communications, and I cannot emphasize strongly enough how challenging it is – for very good reasons – to introduce novel technologies in the space ecosystem.
    In order to turn the Space in to a Service – whatever shape we first need to bring it closer to Earth; and, technologically, this means making rocket launching cheaper, satellites reusable and repairable, communications faster and cheaper, constellations and networks programmable, automatize production chains, standardize technologies to guarantee multi-vendor operability and HW pluggability, improve energy-storage efficiency, and a quite long etc. It is only this way that failure will become affordable – unlike today, hence turning deep research into a worthwhile activity, and then potentially making of Space one more knob to our full “service”.

  4. Hi Zac,
    I enjoyed your article and was wondering what you thought the major impediments are to your cleverly named “Space as a Service” and what some solutions might be. One that immediately comes to mind for me, is the prohibitively expensive cost of tons of rocket fuel. It seems that until more sustainable/cheaper methods of transport to space are devised, we will not realize the full potential of space based technologies.

    1. Greg,

      Thank you for your note. I agree that the current model of space flight is defiantly not conducive for space manufacturing. It will certainly take more innovative means as you mentioned. One such possibility is a additive manufacture / tailored development. Relativity Space is a company exploring this: https://www.relativityspace.com.

      Let me know what you think!


  5. Hello there,
    Really liked your sharing. It is interesting to see that space technology has gotten to these SaaS stages. Such innovation has helped push boundaries by creating more innovative disruptions here on earth too. Personally think there will always be a group of people who regard space exploration as redundant when there are enough problem to solve here on earth, which in many cases aren’t true. ‘Made in Space’ set a Guinness World Record for the longest single 3D-printed piece: a 123.69-foot (37.7 meters) beam. While creating something for the space, they are making a new record breaking impact on the Earth.


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