Optical fibers made in space

“In January 2018, the first ZBLAN optical fiber was manufactured on the International Space Station. When produced in a strong gravitational environment, such as Earth, exotic optical fiber is subject to tiny flaws. These crystals appear in the fiber and significantly increase signal loss. Commercial manufacturing of microgravity-enabled optical fiber has enormous potential, for both use on Earth and space exploration. Our fluoride-based, space-enabled product could offer 10 to 100 times better signal loss than traditional, terrestrially produced silica-based fiber. When considering data transmission lines, such as long-haul communication lines that can span thousands of miles, these flaws cause large enough attenuation of the transmitted light to make the system commercially infeasible. In space, ZBLAN optical fiber can be produced without these crystals, providing superior data transmission capabilities compared to both Earth-produced ZBLAN and traditional silica fiber optic lines.”