- Space Forge is set to test a new type of heat shield from space
- The invention could return satellites and objects made in space back to Earth
- The shield, called Bridven, will be launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
Based in Cardiff, UK, Space Forge is a new space startup supported by the European Space Agency (ESA). The company is in a very unique position: it develops experimental heat shields to bring satellites and other objects back to Earth at low cost.
If there is reason to be interested in the shield in question – as in the case of the baptized Bridwen, King Arthur – it is because of its unique properties. It is lightweight, reusable and very compact. Space Forge engineers combined a composite textile material with origami folding techniques.
SpaceX is piloting an experimental European heat shield
A more recent Bridven modification can be launched with other payloads at a lower cost. Once attached to the material to be returned to Earth, the shield is engaged in preparation for re-entry into the atmosphere. The total surface area is sufficient to distribute and remove part of the heat – the other part is reflected without damaging the material.
Given its size, the armor also relies on wind resistance to reduce speed, so the use of a parachute becomes less essential. At the end of the descent, an autonomous boat with a net retrieves the parachute and its attached material in the open sea.
Space Forge has already passed several atmospheric tests up to 17 km altitude. But with the help of ESA and SpaceX, the company now wants to launch its first test from space. A release is planned for late 2023 at an unknown date. The ForgeStar-1A mission will be launched by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket along with other satellites.
Why is it important?
Several space agencies are directly funding or researching similar devices. We can cite NASA, which tested an inflatable thermal shield (LOFTID) in 2022, which also has a deceleration function using wind resistance.
However, LOFTID is dedicated to future missions to Mars, whereas in Britven’s case, the ultimate goal is closer to Earth. This shielding, for example, makes it possible to bring entire satellites back to Earth, for example, so that they can be repaired before putting them back into orbit.
—Space Forge (@Space_Forge) May 25, 2023
But Space Forge’s ambitions go even further. Because for the company, “The Next Industrial Revolution Won’t Be on Earth”. In the not-too-distant future, it will indeed be possible for a large number of objects, materials and products to be produced in microgravity.
These conditions are essential for some manufacturing processes, such as new types of low-loss optical fiber or materials that cannot be manufactured other than 0 G. Beyond that, we know the ambition of tech giants like Amazon. Factories in space.
Bringing the products produced in this way to the near-Earth environment at sufficiently low cost is undoubtedly essential to the success of this new industrial era.