New project explores creation of factories in space

 Illustration of Space Manufacturing–large antenna reflector
Illustration of Space Manufacturing–large antenna reflector Credit: Airbus

A technology firm has been chosen to work on a project which could eventually lead to the creation of a factory in space.

Airbus Defence and Space, which has a base in Stevenage, was selected by the European Commission to study spacecraft manufacturing in orbit through the Horizon 2020 Programme. 

It's part of a new project looking at the feasibility of satellite assembly and manufacturing above the earth. It's hoped it'll eventually lead to a demonstrator being launched. The project is expected to take two years.

The reason for creating a factory in space is to make space travel and exploration cheaper.

A satellite launch can cost millions of pounds, so by creating a factory in space it reduces the costs of actually getting the probes into space in the first place.

The high cost is why companies like SpaceX have been experimenting with reusable rocketry.

The factory being envisaged by this project will look at building components directly in space.

The 1976 book also suggested that space factories could make space exploration more economically viable

The idea of manufacturing in space is not a new one. US physicist Gerard K O'Neill was behind a plan to create human colonies in space.

In his 1970s book the High Frontier he suggested that manufacturing facilities in orbit would be needed in order to create space stations and help make further space exploration and colonisation economically viable. Airbus Defence and Space in Bremen, Germany is leading a project team. The group in Stevenage is in the very early stages of looking at the kind of robotic devices which would be needed in orbiting factory.

It's the latest in a long line of projects that the region's space companies have been working on.

Scientists were able to capture the closest images ever taken of the Sun, thanks to a Solar Orbiter constructed in Stevenage. 

Next year the Rosalind Franklin Mars Rover is set to launch towards the Red Planet, part of the ExoMars mission a joint European Space Agency (ESA) and Russian state space corporation Roscosmos project.

Last month the Perseverance Rover landed on Mars, carrying technology developed in Essex.