Area Forge secures £7.6m to fund trial of manufacturing facility satellites
The Virgin Orbit Launcher One missile in its hangar at Newquay Airport. IMAGE SOURCE – HUGH R HASTINGS / GETTY IMAGES
Josh Western and Andrew Bacon started their company Space Forge last year, they started out in a garage with little else. Today the two Cardiff-based entrepreneurs have 25 employees and are planning further expansion after raising £ 7.6m in international seed funding.
The funding should enable the company to launch a remarkable space project: the use of satellites to make new alloys, drugs and semiconductors in space and then bring them back to Earth. The first missions are planned for the end of 2022.
“The earth is a wonderful place to live, but terrible for making so many things,” said Western. “You have to fight gravity and the dense atmosphere while trying not to cause pollution. But in space you don’t have gravity to interfere with the mixing of materials while having a pure vacuum and no air pollution. And you also turn your instruments towards or away from the sun to heat them up or cool them down quickly, ”said Western.
Getting into space is the problem. Space Forge, already backed by the UK Space Agency and the European Space Agency, believes its reusable factories will provide the answer. Called ForgeStar orbital vehicles, these furnace-sized spaceships will be put into orbit more than 300 miles above Earth.
They plan to take advantage of the simple launch systems that aerospace companies like Virgin Orbit are developing. Small rockets are carried into the upper atmosphere by jumbo jets and then launched into space. In orbit, ForgeStar vehicles will orbit the earth for one to six months. Inside the tiny spacecraft, automated robotic systems will control the manufacture and testing of alloys, drugs, and electronic components that cannot be made on Earth.
It should change the way materials are made in microgravity. “Experiments on the International Space Station have shown the value of space manufacturing,” said Western. “One example of this is fluoride glass fibers, which are used in communication systems. Made on Earth, they tend to be a little cloudy. The ones produced on the space station are crystal clear and 10 to 100 times better in signal transmission. ”
“Our ForgeStar vehicles are designed to make such materials,” added Western
Space Forge will publish details of the funding it has raised from US, UK and other investors, including the US-based SpaceFund and the Berlin-based World Fund, which supports companies pioneering new green technologies. “International investors are obviously impressed,” said Paul Bate, chief executive of the UK space agency. “The investment was four times oversubscribed and millions of pounds secured to help the company take the next steps on its journey.”
This point was supported by Western. “Hopefully we’ll be able to launch our first ForgeStar into space by the end of 2022.”