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If you look at the challenge of building a factory in space, there are many challenges - some examples:

  • Lathes and other industrial equipment is heavy, thus expensive to lift. Weight is often helpful for vibration dampening
  • Pumps want some static pressure at the inlet to avoid cavitation, this is often simply gravity head
  • The vast majority of liquid-gas phase reactors I'm aware of use gravity to seperate the liquid from the gaseaous phase
  • Industrial processes generate inconvenient dirt, in zero-g this can get anywhere even more so than on earth
  • Temperature changes of the environment may be more extreme than on earth, a convenient heat sink for low-temp process heat is generally not available
  • Movement of machines may impart a torque on the spacecraft

I could probably list more. For most of them, I could easily think of a solution, most solutions would add mass. Some could be solved by adding gravity by spinning the craft, leading to new interesting problems (and probably adding mass)
My question is: Has anyone done extensive research into what it would mean to build and operate a factory in space?
What are the key findings and what are the key open questions?

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    $\begingroup$ Adding mass may not be a problem, if you're building a factory in space then it's likely you have a supply of mass to process in the first place. $\endgroup$ – NPSF3000 Nov 11 '14 at 11:07
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    $\begingroup$ Manufacturing in zero-gravity space makes little sense unless the techniques benefit from a lack of gravity. There are some techniques, such as thin-film manufacturing, which are better done in zero gravity. You are better off building a factory on the moon and lifting components to orbit from there. $\endgroup$ – GdD Nov 11 '14 at 11:20
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    $\begingroup$ @GdD Cycler or Interplanetary Transport Network "Castles" could benefit from it either for own use (manufacture and assembly) or to deorbit refined goods for cheaper / easier delivery to planets they visit (i.e. less mass to impart required delta-v upon). Any excess mass could also be used for trajectory corrections as reaction mass or "bioshielding". It doesn't necessarily mean raw goods would be processed in microgravity tho, (parts of) the "castle" could be spun to provide artificial gravity and axial stability. $\endgroup$ – TildalWave Nov 11 '14 at 12:06
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    $\begingroup$ @mart Certainly, but most of the problems you list can be solved by spinning the facility as a whole or parts of it (e.g. centrifuges for the liquids / gases separation by weight), or axially symmetric placement of torque-producing equipment to reduce non-spin stabilized axis wobble (aka nutation). The rest then remains the same as anywhere else. You can even spin at a faster rate and keep the habitable torus somewhere in its middle where the centrifugal force equals roughly 1 g. It would just have to have rather huge radius to also reduce acceleration gradient and Coriolis effect. $\endgroup$ – TildalWave Nov 11 '14 at 13:14
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    $\begingroup$ There are several related question, here are a couple What are the considerations for smelting iron and aluminum in space?, Would unpainted iron or steel rust in space?, Can you print 3D with iron in space? $\endgroup$ – James Jenkins Nov 11 '14 at 19:56