Redwire, in partnership with the International Space Station (ISS) U.S. National Laboratory, is developing an automated Single Crystal Growth Chamber (SCGC) that will reside in the Industrial Crystallization Facility (ICF) launching onboard Northrop Grumman’s 15th Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) mission to the orbiting platform. The SCGC will enable precision crystal growth monitoring to support applied industrial materials research in microgravity.
The ICF, currently being developed by Redwire through NASA’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, will provide a space-based platform for the growth and formulation of large (centimeter-scale) single crystals and other exotic materials of industrially relevant size and quality. Current ISS facilities for crystal growth are too small to accommodate large industrial crystals, and the ICF will fill this gap.
On the ISS, the ICF will enable industrial crystallization in an environment free from gravity-driven phenomena such as sedimentation, convection, and buoyancy—which negatively affect crystal growth—potentially resulting in larger and higher-quality crystals than can be obtained on Earth. Microgravity crystallization could significantly improve the production of nonlinear optical crystals, which have many important industrial applications. These crystals are used in fiber optic laser transmitters for communications and in CMOS image sensors, which have numerous applications ranging from automotive safety systems to medical equipment, video security and surveillance networks, and human-recognition user interfaces.
When the ICF launches on Northrop Grumman CRS-15, it will join the 17 commercially operated facilities currently on the ISS National Lab—including the Additive Manufacturing Facility and the Optical Fiber Production in Microgravity system. Like the optical fiber production demonstration, Redwire will use the ICF on the ISS National Lab to demonstrate the in-space manufacturing of products that are difficult or costly to produce on Earth—and that have economically significant, intrinsic value back on the ground.
During flight experiments, the SCGC active monitoring system will allow investigators to observe crystal growth in near real time—providing an invaluable diagnostic tool for determining the degree to which gravity affects crystallization. Redwire is also developing a ground-based system to evaluate candidate materials for microgravity crystallization and to develop benchmarks for comparisons between microgravity-grown crystals and ground-control samples. Together, these systems will both enable early-stage phenomenological studies of high-value single crystal production in microgravity and also allow investigators to determine the specific conditions that lead to improved material products with important uses on Earth.
To learn more about the ICF, read Redwire’s official release on the payload.