Check out this recent article in The Economist discussing the advantages of producing ZBLAN optical fibers on the International Space Station (ISS). The article highlights two companies—Made in Space and FOMS, Inc. (Fiber Optic Manufacturing in Space)—currently pursuing in-orbit optical fiber production onboard the ISS National Lab.
ZBLAN is a type of fluoride-based optical fiber glass that has the potential to perform up to 100 times more efficiently than traditional silica-based fibers. However, when ZBLAN is produced on Earth, gravity-driven forces cause impurities to form in the fibers, significantly hindering their performance.
In the microgravity environment of the ISS National Lab, ZBLAN fibers can be produced with significantly fewer imperfections, leading to higher-quality fibers than can be produced on the ground. High-performance optical fibers produced in space would be extremely valuable back on Earth. Such fibers could not only improve the efficiency and cost of communications systems but also could lead to advancements in many industries, including sensors used in the aerospace and defense industries and improved medical devices (such as laser scalpels).