UK-based Space Forge has developed a novel satellite reentry system that can help in recovery and reuse of its in-space manufacturing spacecraft, the media reported.
Founded in 2018, Space Forge has the world’s only dedicated relaunchable super materials manufacturing satellite ForgeStar, with soft-descent and high-precision landing capabilities.
ForgeStar aims to make a soft landing with the help of a new heat shield and a water vehicle, TechCrunch reported.
An ablative heat shield has been used previously by Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo spacecrafts to both cool and protect mechanical parts that would otherwise be damaged by extremely high temperatures.
It consists of a layer of plastic resin, the outer surface of which is heated to a gas, which then carries the heat away by convection. These are currently also used by the SpaceX Dragon 2 spacecraft and the Orion spacecraft.
However, the ablative heat shield has to be changed after each mission.
On the contrary, the new “Pridwen” heat shield, built by Space Forge, is large enough to radiate away the heat generated by atmospheric reentry, the report said. The shield is made out of a high-temperature alloy, and was designed to fold inside the launcher for lift-off and unfold when the spacecraft makes its return to Earth.
“It’s old technology, The idea of ablative heat shields, something that eats itself as it returns, it’s [1950s] technology,” Andrew Bacon, Space Forge co-founder and chief technology officer was quoted as saying.
Another technology is an uncrewed water vehicle, ‘Fielder,’ which will manoeuvre itself under ForgeStar and “catch” it in a soft landing, the report said.
The idea is to reduce stress on sensitive payloads inside the vehicle as much as possible, while also reducing the need for spacecraft refurbishment.
ForgeStar, a small class vehicle deployable in orbit for up to six months, will initially focus on the production of semiconductors, alloys, and biological materials.
After losing its first attempt to launch the satellite on the Virgin Orbit’s January mission, Space Forge now plans to test the reentry capabilities with the ForgeStar-1A satellite later this year. Virgin’s launcher experienced an anomaly and failed to reach orbit.
The company said it aims to launch the debut mission without any customer payloads. Its launch date or launch provider has not been disclosed.