An important step on the road to further space exploration. The EU has awarded Airbus a contract to see how to build a satellite production facility in orbit.
In recent years, space has been as hot as in the 60s. A new space race is in full swing, but this time it’s not about national pride as much as lucrative tourist offers backed by eccentric billionaires.
But in the shadow of Spacex, Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin, there is a big investment in how to make space more accessible – and this is where the EU wants to establish itself.
The Union has now, as part of the Horizon 2020 program, commissioned Airbus to look at how to build a factory into orbit. The project is called “Period” which stands for peraspera (the first part of the Latin expression “per aspera ad stra”) in-orbit demonstration.
The EU pays EUR 3 million for a study
It is primarily a two-year study. For this, the EU has contributed 3 million euros, but the idea is that when the study is completed, it should be possible to move on to building an actual facility.
The space factory must be able to manufacture important components such as antenna reflectors, parts for spaceships but also consumables for satellites. Manufacturing will be a pioneering unit in order to be able to build larger units in the future as well.
There are two reasons why more and more stakeholders are starting to turn a blind eye to “made in space”. The first is that it is terribly expensive to launch things with a rocket. Even though the price has fallen steadily, it is still a lot of money. The second is that when you are not limited by what fits in a space rocket, or even need to design it to cope with a launch, the possibilities expand enormously.
– Airbus has worked for manufacturing technology in circulation for more than a decade. The period program will help Europe take its combined technical expertise to the next level. Future large-scale space systems can only be manufactured and assembled in space, so it is critical that Europe is at the forefront of this capacity, says Silvio Sandrone, head of the Space exploration future projects unit at Airbus, in a statement.
In addition to Airbus, seven other European companies are participating in Period.
Several players want to start operations in space
However, the EU and Airbus are not alone in seeing that manufacturing in space can be good to have in the future. In the United States has within Darpa a project called Nom 4D where the goal is to be able to produce “large, dynamic structures” for the US military.
In addition to these large, state-funded projects, there are also upstarts who see opportunities with activities in space.