From this world: A Welsh startup is gearing up to send what can be compared to a miniature factory into space, where it will take advantage of a unique environment to produce components that can’t be made here on Earth.
So far, we’ve made do with traditional manufacturing, but as Space Forge co-founder Josh Western points out, Earth is a pretty bad place to build things. The planet’s dense atmosphere, constant temperature, and gravity can wreak havoc on the manufacturing process, but such concerns don’t exist in space.
“Let’s say you make aluminum alloy”, said Andrew Bacon, another of the company’s co-founders. “On Earth, if you mix metals together, they separate into two layers: heavy lead at the bottom and aluminum at the top. But in microgravity, you don’t have that problem, and you can actually mix them together properly.”
When manufacturing in space, you also don’t have to worry about air pollution, such as oxygen creating oxide. “The unique conditions make space a much better place to create things than here on Earth,” Bacon added.
ForgeStar, as the platform is called, is about the size of a small oven. Once in orbit, it will orbit the Earth for up to six months as its internal robotic systems produce light alloys and ultra-efficient semiconductors. When the work is completed, the satellite will return home with its payload, and then be repaired and restarted with a new set of raw materials on board.
Sounds like an expensive treat, but according to Bacon, this much more affordable send things into space than it used to be. “Usually it cost $20,000 per kilo. You can get as little as $1,000 these days,” he said.
ForgeStar will launch into space in September. It will be attached to the rocket along with other satellites and flown aboard Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl aircraft. Once it reaches 35,000 feet, the pilot will drop the rocket, which will then ignite and send the payload into space.
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