A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is set to carry the first industrial plant into space.
Photo: Chandan Khanna/AFP
a Space research company Varda Space wants to become the first to build a manufacturing facility in space. The company is set to partner with SpaceX to accomplish this unlikely challenge, with the goal of producing materials using low gravity. The first launch is expected in early 2023.
An industrial plant in space? Varda Space may seem far-fetched — after all, there is no shortage of space on land to build factories — but the concept could serve industries here on Earth. Farda’s goal will be to use microgravity to manufacture new materials or to continue research at the International Space Station on some specific products. According to TechCrunch, this type of space facility could, for example, manufacture specialized bioprinted organs or semiconductors, even if nothing has been officially disclosed at the moment by the company, since no contracts have been signed with customers yet.
In order to make a trip to space, Varda Space needs to find partners to help make the trip to low Earth orbit. This is the place SpaceX Comes in. SpaceX offers companies that want to send objects into space the opportunity to use one of their scheduled launches to do so. Basically, the two companies are taking a trip into space together. Once they reach their destination, they are free to go their separate ways – almost like a sort of “space car-sharing” in reality, although slightly different from your usual downtown commute.
Varda Space has announced that it hopes to move its factory on a Falcon 9 rocket, owned by SpaceX, scheduled for launch at the beginning of 2023. The new SpaceX rockets will carry the supplies needed to move the factory into space.
While the companies have not disclosed any terms of their agreement, it is known that the craft will spend about three months in orbit testing these new manufacturing technologies.
However, another launch option was being studied, in the form of the Rocket Lab “Electron” missiles. But Varda Space did not want to put all of its eggs in the same basket, because the New Zealand company is already responsible for making the spacecraft that will accommodate its supplies, as well as the return capsule to return to Earth. This capsule is very important because the return to Earth’s atmosphere occurs at Mach 28, and the material must not break during landing.
Indeed, the most complex moments remain, from industrialization to recovery, this return to the atmosphere. In fact, Mach 28 is 28 times the speed of sound (1,224 km/h). Remember those science fiction movies where you see a capsule returning to Earth? Now, imagine transporting sensitive materials in this environment full of uncertainty, while facing many outside influences. This will undoubtedly be one of the crucial moments of the mission.
Unlike other spacecraft that specialize in communications or imaging, Varda Space and its space factory do not require a specific orbit for their mission. In fact, the facility should only be able to stay in low Earth orbit. Lessons learned from this first flight will be used for subsequent flights. Varda Space hopes to be able to launch a second or even a third mission by the end of 2024.
But this date is still relatively far away, which leaves the opportunity for the emergence of other projects. The European Union, for example, is working in the field with the “PERIOD” project, which aims to develop an orbital plant. It will focus on assembling and manufacturing satellites directly from space in partnership with Airbus. Anyway, these ambitious projects give us a glimpse into some new perspectives for industrialists and entrepreneurs of all horizons.
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