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Microgravity manufacturing — the next frontier

ACME Advanced Materials in Albuquerque is helping to push the boundaries of the emerging space industry.

Rich Glover, president/CEO of ACME Advanced Materials, holds a can of Antimatter, a space energy drink produced in a former venture. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

Rich Glover, president/CEO of ACME Advanced Materials, holds a can of Antimatter, a space energy drink produced in a former venture. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

Today, most commercial space research and development is focused on satellites and spacecraft, including future launch vehicles to take cargo and people beyond gravity. Space tourism has captured headlines and imagination worldwide, as Virgin Galactic works to shoot paying passengers into suborbit from Spaceport America in southern New Mexico.

But ACME is focused on manufacturing in space, something few companies are currently pursuing.

“Of the 800 or so companies that our analysts track globally, very few are targeting microgravity research and manufacturing,” said Dick David, CEO and co-founder of NewSpace Global, a New York-based information service focused on the new space industry. “That’s still a very nascent market today, but we expect it to grow over the next several years.”

ACME is taking advantage of the dead still of microgravity to cure, or “heal,” defective semiconductor wafers sent on flights to suborbit. The company says space can offer many more such opportunities for new manufacturing processes.

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“Right now the emphasis and push for commercial space is focused on launch vehicles, that’s where the money is,” said ACME President and CEO Rich Glover. “While it is important that access to space continues to evolve and improve, the real bonanza will come from the materials and products that are manufacturable in microgravity with superior performance characteristics.”

ACME is not Glover’s first space venture. An electrical engineer, Glover launched Microgravity Enterprises Inc. in 2006 with a number of partners to create space drinks made from ingredients flown to suborbit. The company produced and sold an energy drink called Antimatter and Space20 bottled water. It also worked with Kelly’s Brewery in Albuquerque to make space beer, such as “Comet’s Tail Ale.”

The ingredients for those drinks flew on a UP Aerospace flight in 2007 at the New Mexico Spaceport. But the company faced major hurdles to enter the already crowded retail beverage market, and it crashed and burned in the recession.

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