AFP /C. Khanna

SpaceX to send the first factory into space

An industrial plant in space? The Varda Space project may seem far-fetched – there is no shortage of space on Earth to design factories – but it can lead to the development of industries on the ground. Farda’s interest is in using microgravity to manufacture new materials or advance research on the International Space Station on specific products. According to TechCrunch, we can for example manufacture bioprinted or semiconductor organs even if nothing is disclosed at the moment because no contract has been signed with the customer.

To be able to make the flight, Varda Space needs to find partners to make the flight to low Earth orbit. This is where SpaceX comes in. The latter is offered to companies that want to send things into space to take advantage of one of their planned flights to do so. Basically, the two companies are taking a trip into space together. When they reach their destination, they separate and each get busy on their own. In short, a kind of “spatial car sharing”. A little different from your Sunday trip between Angers and Paris…

Varda Space has announced that it wants to move its factory on the Falcon 9, owned by SpaceX, by the beginning of 2023. The new SpaceX rockets will carry the supplies needed to set up the factory in space.

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If the companies don’t reveal any of the contract clauses, we know the machine will spend about three months in orbit testing these new manufacturing technologies.

Watch out for landing

However, another option of firing with “Electron” missiles from Rocket Lab was studied. But Varda Space did not want to put all its eggs in one basket, as the New Zealand company would take care of the spacecraft to accommodate the supplies as well as the capsule to return to Earth. The capsule is extremely important since atmospheric re-entry occurs at Mach 28 and the material must not break upon landing.

In fact, the most complex moment from industrialization to recovery remains the moment of re-entry into the atmosphere. Mach 28 is 28 times the speed of sound (1224 km/h). Remember the science fiction movies in which we see the capsule returning to Earth. Now imagine that you are transporting sensitive materials through this uncertain environment while taking on 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 mission orbit. It just needs to stay in low Earth orbit. Lessons learned during this first trip may allow others to implement them. Varda Space hopes to be able to launch a second or even a third by the end of 2024.

A date that remains elusive leaving the opportunity for other projects to see the light of day. We know, for example, that the European Union is working on this topic with the “PERIOD” project that wants 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 new horizons for industrialists and entrepreneurs from all fields.

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