The New Wild West: Welding in Space 

May 2024

The current lack of welding in space technologies is seriously impeding the new industrial space race. That’s why NASA, the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Space Force, and a horde of established and startup companies are taking part in the new gold rush of the modern space industry.  

Why the interest? Raw materials, energy, and living space if we can make it livable. The limitations? Everything we use in space is manufactured on Earth. This means we can only take to space what we can fit inside and carry with a chemical rocket. If structures could be assembled by welding in space, then the components could be sent up in multiple rockets and assembled to create a much larger structure than what is currently available. Welding would also enable emergency repairs and scheduled maintenance of habitats and equipment. 

We have a long way to go and a short time to get there. The only welding in space experiment reported by the United States was completed on the Skylab in 1973 ( There are many significant challenges for welding in space, with major factors including a range of atmospheres, temperatures, radiation, and gravities. Adhesives are currently the only technology used to repair leaks in the space station, but as anyone in the welding and joining community knows, adhesives are limited in strength and reliability compared to metallurgical joining processes. Many solid-state processes require large forces provided by motors that do not operate well or at all in space; however, these technologies are worth investigating due to the simplicity of not working with molten metal. Thankfully, new advances in impact welding developed at The Ohio State University show promise for welding in space applications. Fusion welding technologies that require gas, such as arc welding, would be very costly for transporting the gas bottles and require custom solutions to operate in a vacuum. Other fusion welding processes, such as resistance spot welding, require mechanical forces, which would have issues related to motors, hydraulics, or pneumatics not functioning in space. A detailed analysis of all technologies revealed that the most promising technologies for near-term deployment as solutions for welding in space include laser welding and electron beam welding.  

I am part of the first academic team in the United States created to develop welding in space technologies. This team is led by Professor Antonio Ramirez of the Welding Engineering Program in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at The Ohio State University. We are partnered with the Center for Design and Manufacturing Engineering, the George Washington Carver Space Park, the University of Dayton Research Institute, Central State University, NASA Marshall, NASA Langley, NASA Glenn, the Air Force Research Lab, the State of Ohio, and industry partners, including Starlab, Voyager, Nanoracks, the Lincoln Electric Co., IPG Photonics, Agile Ultrasonics, and Xiris. This is an exciting beginning to a new area of research, development, and commercialization that can potentially change the world.

WD May 24 - The New Wild West: Welding in Space
 - Boyd Panton.jpg


This article was written by Boyd Panton (assistant professor, Welding Engineering Program, The Ohio State University) for the American Welding Society.