SPACE MANUFACTURING: THE COMMON WISDOM IS WRONG

Robert Heinlein said that common wisdom is almost always wrong, by a factor of at least ten thousand to one.

During the 1980?s, there was a lot of enthusiasm for materials processing in space. A lot of it was driven by a popular book called The Third Industrial Revolution, written by engineer G. Harry Stine. Stine believed that access to the space environment, including weightlessness, vacuum, and radiation, would revolutionize manufacturing.

Today, everyone “knows better.” We’re still doing experiments with materials processing, fluid physics, etc. in microgravity but almost no one expects these experiments to lead to large-scale, profitable manufacturing in space. Instead, microgravity is viewed as a research tool. The emphasis is on understanding phenomena that can improve processes on the ground. Once we understand how something works in microgravity, we can almost certainly find ways of reproducing the observed phenomenon more cheaply on the ground.

What “everyone knows” is wrong. In fact, products have already been manufactured in space and sold on Earth.

Read more: Space Manufacturing: The Common Wisdom is Wrong — Citizens in Space.

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