Reusable factory in space gets seed funding
A UK startup has raised £600,000 to develop a reusable factory that can make semiconductor materials and alloys in space.
Space Forge in Newport, Wales, is designing a low cost, reusable satellite factory that could manufacture materials in microgravity and vacuum. The factory would return to earth on a custom heatshield to return the products, landing in water.
The initial design is a 6U CubeSat weighing up to 12kg that can be launched as part of a multi-customer mission to reduce the cost an environmental impact. “What we think we have found is a way of using space sustainably,” said Joshua Western, co-founder of Space Forge. “The CO2 footprint is less than a return flight to the US.”
“The satellite will go to 500km and contain microgravity manufacturing or payloads, orbit for two weeks to 6 months. To bring it home we have developed an evolution of Shuttle technology and are targeting the Celtic sea for return,” he said. “We are looking to take existing processes such as semiconductor materials and alloys and expose them to space, so we want to have a higher cadence of smaller satellites with small production runs, up to 150kg.”
“We focus on the return technology and the payload and work with partners around the UK and Europe. For the 6U platform we are talking to Clyde Space for example. We have done a prototype high altitude test at 20km using a weather balloon, the next tests will be at 30 to 40km then we wil run tests in European facilities that mimic space,” he said.
The company is working with the Compound Semiconductor Catapult in Newport and the backing comes from the Development Bank of Wales, alongside Bristol Private Equity Club and Innovate UK.
“It is amazing to receive this funding at such a critical time for our company. The investment will help us create jobs in our key technologies across our base in Wales and new design hub in Bristol,” said Western. “This funding will help us accelerate the development of critical technologies and carry out key testing.”
“This new investment will help Space Forge develop innovative new space technologies to improve manufacturing processes here on Earth. It is another fantastic example of the UK’s thriving commercial space sector, which employs 42,000 people and generates £14.8bn for the economy,” said Catherine Mealing-Jones, Director of Growth at the UK Space Agency (UKSA).
The company is talking to a range of launch providers, particularly Rocket Lab in New Zealand who offer multi-user launches and are developing a battery-powered electric engine for its rockets. It is also in discussion with Virgin Orbit, which is planning to operate a 747-based satellite service from Newquay in Cornwall in 2022.