Redwire Project for 3D Printing Anti-Radiation Vests In Space Wins Award

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Since private equity firm AE Industrial Partners formed Redwire Space in June 2020, the space startup has been driving disruptive technology innovations and proving it is one of the new leaders in mission-critical space solutions. Now Redwire has become one of the winners of the Florida-Israel Innovation Partnership Program. Along with StemRad, an Israeli developer of wearable technology designed to protect the human body from high doses of radiation, Redwire presented a project targeting in-space 3D printing of personal radiation shielding vest components from recycled thermoplastic polymers.

For this project, Redwire and StemRad will recycle polyethylene from packaging waste into filament for on-orbit additive manufacturing (AM) of polyethylene shielding inserts for StemRad’s personal radiation protection vests. Crewed missions traveling beyond the protective barrier of the Earth’s atmosphere for extended periods will require this equipment.

Astronaut Jessica Meir took pictures of the StemRad radiation vest on the International Space Station. Image courtesy of StemRed.

Once in space, astronauts encounter a host of harmful radiation levels, mainly from particles trapped in Earth’s magnetic field, solar flares, and galactic cosmic rays. In addition, with upcoming missions planned to the Moon and Mars in the following decades, astronauts will be exposed to the full radiation spectrum and its damaging effects. While attempting to solve this problem, StemRad began developing personal protective equipment against ionizing radiation. With aerospace giant Lockheed Martin, the startup created the AstroRad, specially designed protective gear for astronauts that markedly reduces Radiation Exposure Induced Death (REID), such as tissue damage and cancer.

Now, with Redwire, StemRad is figuring out a way for astronauts to print the shielding inserts directly in orbit. In-space additive manufacturing has been one of Redwire’s specialties since the acquisition of zero gravity AM provider Made In Space. The subsidiary sent the first 3D printing platform to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2014 and has continued to create microgravity devices ever since.

Just months after being acquired by Redwire, Made In Space relocated its headquarters and satellite manufacturing operations from Silicon Valley to a new headquarters facility in Jacksonville, Florida. The new site includes the capability to locally manufacture, test, and control spacecraft and in-space manufacturing equipment, including the 3D printing devices aboard the ISS.

Redwire’s Zero-G manufacturing heritage includes the commercially available Additive Manufacturing Facility (AMF), a Fiber Optics (MIS Fiber) miniature fiber-pulling machine for producing optical fibers, a Plastic Recycler for processing waste plastic into feedstock filaments for the AMF, and the Ceramic Manufacturing Module. Soon, Redwire’s Archinaut spacecraft assembly technology for repairing existing satellites in orbit is expected to launch in 2022.

JAXA astronaut Norishige Kanai works next to a Made In Space 3D printer on the International Space Station. Image courtesy of Made in Space

As one of the four winners of the Innovation Partnership Program, Redwire and StemRad will receive part of the $2 million funding to support the research, development, and commercialization of their aerospace and technology project. Redwire and StemRad competed against 19 joint proposals for the eighth-year award. They will share the price with fellow winners Craig Technologies and MTI Wireless Edge for the development of an antenna that can be used for space-ground and space-space applications; Everix Optical Filters and SolCold for using nanoparticle materials to create cooling-by-sunlight products; and LightPath Technologies and RP Optical Lab for developing an optoelectronics thermal imaging module for nanosatellites.

Created by Space Florida, the state’s own aerospace economic development agency, in partnership with the Israel Innovation Authority, an independent publicly funded agency, the Innovation Partnership Program supports joint aerospace research and development projects between Florida and Israeli companies.

Israel Innovation Authority Chairman Ami Appelbaum said that since its inception in 2013, the Israel-Florida collaboration on space-related technologies has produced great projects that could truly make a difference in the aerospace sector. In 2021, there has been a notable increase in the number of applications submitted compared to the previous year, as well as the noteworthy high quality of those projects, highlighted Appelbaum.

Both Redwire and StemRad are developing some of the most cutting-edge space technology, turning heads with their incredible innovations for off-Earth exploration. As future missions to the Moon, Mars and beyond, continue to take shape, these technologies will become the basis for the survival of crewed interplanetary missions and pave the way for the future of 3D printing in space.

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