A revolution in the space industry is coming. With cheaper launch costs, companies are striving to take advantage of the ease of access to the benefits that spaces offer as a manufacturing environment. These include a static vacuum, temperatures close to absolute zero, and the lack of any significant gravity. These features will enable easier processing and manufacturing of hundreds of products, from pharmaceuticals to metal alloys. The hard part is getting them back to Earth, where they can be used.
A company based in the UK recently revealed what it believes is a viable solution to this. Space Forge, which is developing a reusable manufacturing platform for use in spaceRecently, they discussed Pridwen’s heat shield. The best thing about this new heat shield is that it is reusable.
Typical heat shields, such as those used on the Apollo missions and even on SpaceX’s more modern Dragon capsules, are “dragging”. This means that they burn up in the atmosphere on re-entry and must be replaced each time the capsule returns. It’s expensive, time-consuming, and wasteful—it’s one of the last bastions of the outdated space launch model that SpaceX still holds on to. This seems to be because there was no better alternative than a heat shield when the Dragon was designed over ten years ago.
Therefore, Space Forge is trying to fill that gap in the market with a new technology. Pridwen, which takes its name from King Arthur’s name shieldmade of a high-temperature alloy that folds into the fairing it’s launched into and then expands to a much larger size when the craft is attached back to Earth.
For the first Space Forge effort, that vehicle will be the ForgeStar. This manufacturing platform aims to fly into space for short periods, manufacture specialized products, and then return to Earth with those fully manufactured products. On her way back to Earth, her coming down It will be aided by a “soft landing” on the Fielder, an autonomous recovery boat that can catch the ForgeStar on its return to Earth.
that Soft landing Crucial, as many Space Forge operatives have concerns about hard landings for experiments they’ve already attempted in space. For experiments returning from the International Space Station, not much escapes re-entry or impact, making any business model for manufacturing products in space unviable unless they can prove that the product returns in good condition.
So far, the company has not proven this, although it is actively working on fleshing out its designs. Unfortunately, the prototype did not go as planned when the Virgin Orbit launcher to which it was attached failed to reach orbit. Fortunately, this was just one of many planned launches for the company, so failure wasn’t as devastating as it was for something like James Webb, which took billions of dollars and decades to design.
The company appears to be well enough capital to survive. It received a $10.2 million funding round in 2021 and expects to announce news about another funding round soon. With luck, the a companyThe next test would prove successful, and it could begin to materialize its business model as part of the world’s first steps in the space manufacturing revolution.
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