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Space tech firm tackles industrial crystals, Jupiter moon probe

NASA's OSIRIS-REx probe, which carries sun sensors made by a company now based in Florida, is near the asteroid Bennu in an artist's sketch. Image courtesy of NASA
NASA's OSIRIS-REx probe, which carries sun sensors made by a company now based in Florida, is near the asteroid Bennu in an artist's sketch. Image courtesy of NASA

ORLANDO, Fla., Dec. 22 (UPI) -- A growing space technology conglomerate in Florida will develop new hardware, including a chamber to grow industrial crystals at the International Space Station and sensors for NASA's upcoming Jupiter moon probe.

Jacksonville-based Redwire, founded in June, was formed when a private equity firm combined Deep Space Systems with Adcole Space, bringing together a broad variety of space technology and hardware.

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Adcole Space, based in Massachusetts, for decades has made sun sensors for spacecraft navigation. Next up for the solar sensors is a trip on the Europa Clipper probe, which NASA plans to launch in 2024 to the moon of Jupiter named Europa, said Mike Kagan, a principal engineer with Adcole.

The probe will search for signs of life on the icy moon.

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"The mission to Jupiter will be quite a challenge for the sensor technology," Kagan said.

Sensors on the craft will have to "operate immediately upon launch, and at Europa, so there's a wide range of sunlight levels to account for," he said.

Jupiter's powerful magnetic field also means the sensors will be bathed in high levels of radiation, which could interfere with the devices if they aren't engineered properly, he said.

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The sensor will detect the angle of the sun to help direct solar panels so that they receive maximum sunlight. Another sensor would find the exact location of the sun, so as not to burn out more sensitive equipment that isn't designed for full sun exposure, Kagan said.

The farthest Adcole sensor is on the New Horizons probe, launched in 2006, which is now over 4 billion miles from Earth. The probe passed Pluto in 2015 and the Arrokoth asteroid in 2019.

Other such sensors are on the Parker Solar Probe, which is near the sun at over 90 million miles in the other direction, and on the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft that just took rock samples at the asteroid Bennu 200 million miles away.

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Besides the deep space work, Redwire also has new contracts with NASA for work on the International Space Station.

One such contract, at $74 million, is to develop 3D printing in microgravity for sophisticated ceramics used in aerospace and other industrial applications. One such printing unit is on the space station and is set for a return to Earth in January.

"You can build structures in space that have, you know, are stronger and more resistant to stress or heat, because gravity introduces imperfections in their structure," said Mike Snyder, Redwire's chief technology officer.

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A new project under development at the company is to make industrial crystals in space for high-tech lenses and lasers, he said.

Redwire announced another new acquisition last week -- New Mexico-based LoadPath, which makes payload adapters, including some for a 2018 SpaceX mission that carried 65 satellites, a record at the time.

The private equity firm, Boca Raton, Fla.-based AE Industrial Partners, owns Redwire's rollup of companies.

"There's a clear opportunity in aerospace now, but there isn't a lot of coordination among the smaller players, so we're trying to do that," said Austin Jordan, the communications director.

Out-of-this-world images from space

The International Space Station is pictured from the SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour during a flyaround of the orbiting lab that took place following its undocking from the Harmony module’s space-facing port on November 8. Photo courtesy of NASA

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