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  • Satellite Evolution

World-first technology awarded €2 million ESA funding for ‘microgravity as a service’

Welsh start-up Space Forge is leading the clean industrial revolution by harnessing the power of space. Along with partners, Space Forge is developing a world-first service incorporating both launch and return of a new small class of vehicle; a returnable satellite - the ForgeStar - that can be deployed from conventional launchers to provide rapid, reliable and reusable in-space infrastructure. This dedicated, on-demand returnable service will unlock the potential of ‘microgravity on demand’ - expanding the microgravity research and in-space production markets to new horizons.

Space Forge has now been awarded a two-year contract, through the European Space Agency’s Boost! Commercial Space Transportation Services Programme, worth €2 million - covering the preliminary and detailed design phases, as well as the launch, in-orbit operation and return of the first operational ForgeStar demonstration vehicle.

The current market demand for microgravity as a service, which has the potential to decrease energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions by manufacturing high-performance products impossible to produce on Earth, is in excess of half a billion per year - yet cannot be supported with current offerings. Having identified the key barriers to this market - namely: no dedicated platform, no soft return and a heavy reliance on the International Space Station - the solution developed by the consortium is a low-cost, independent, reusable space vehicle able to perform scalable in-orbit manufacturing.

Space Forge’s microgravity return vehicle, the ForgeStar Orbital Vehicle 1 (FSOV-1), is a flexible modular small satellite - consisting of the orbital module and an interchangeable microgravity capsule, to enable reliable, safe and predictable return to Earth. The innovation in this small scale vehicle is the ability to return from space using a non-ablative technology - significantly reducing the landing impact, enabling vehicle refurbishment and re-launch.

Joshua Western, CEO and Co-founder of Space Forge: “We’re thrilled to receive this support for the ForgeStar platform. Sustainable return from space can unlock commercial opportunities not otherwise possible, and leverage low Earth orbit as a resource in a similar way to how reductions in launch prices have democratised access to space.

“Space Forge is uniquely positioned to multiply the value of microgravity research coupled with dedicated return and we cannot wait to see the positive impact this will have on commercial space.”

Jorgen Bru, ESA’s Commercial Services Manager and Technical Officer for the contract: “Space Forge has raised private funding, identified niche markets and strengthened its core team and industrial organisation to bring these novel reentry and recovery technologies to life. ESA is delighted to support Space Forge in its endeavour to prepare this service for the market.”

UK Space Agency Chief Executive, Dr Paul Bate: “This success for Space Forge shows how UK firms are at the forefront of the global space industry.

“The substantial funding support we are delivering to our growing space sector, alongside our world-leading regulatory regime and strong international agreements, means the UK is well placed to benefit from the new commercial opportunities UK launch will bring to communities across the four nations.”

Economy Minister for Wales, Vaughan Gething: “This world-first operation has the potential to revolutionise space capabilities which have remained unchanged for decades. Space Forge is a real Welsh success story and continues to develop ground-breaking new technologies grounded in sustainability.

“Its pioneering brilliance is warmly welcomed amid our efforts to deliver a greener Wales for the future, and I am delighted Space Forge has been able to access funding from the Welsh Government and the Development Bank for Wales.”

In creating a reliable return, Space Forge will advance the expansion of the microgravity market for premium research and development applications by lowering the barriers to entry. The company is focused on R&D initiatives where dedicated return from the space environment can add a significant benefit, or overcome obstacles found terrestrially, to unlock new value and innovation. Identified markets with a history of in-space research for this purpose include the semiconductor and pharmaceutical industries.

Space Forge are working with key partners from across the industry, drawing upon existing infrastructures and expertise to develop this comprehensive scalable solution. The consortium includes AAC Clyde, Goonhilly Earth Station, NORSS, Satellite Applications Catapult and STFC.

The ability to return from space has changed little since the 1960s, with the costs remaining extremely high and the opportunities to return few and far between. The ESA funding will significantly accelerate Space Forge’s development of a sustainable return from space. FSOV-1 is scheduled for launch in 2022, and will test multiple critical subsystems including return to earth technology and tracking software.

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