Microgravity space lab gets ESA backing

Written by: Andrew Wade | Published:
(Credit: Space Forge)

UK startup Space Forge is partnering with ESA on a new commercial service to help deliver microgravity experiments in space.

Set to launch in 2022, the service will revolve around ForgeStar, a reusable, suitcase-sized vehicle that will be capable of remaining in low Earth orbit (LEO) for up to six months at a time before returning safely to Earth. The microgravity environment onboard the vehicle will be used as a testing ground for in-orbit validation/demonstration (IOV/IOD) of new materials and new pharmaceutical compounds.

ESA is supporting the project through a two-year contract worth two million euros within its Boost! programme. This funding covers the preliminary and detailed design phases, as well as the launch, in-orbit operation and return of the first operational demonstration vehicle.

“Space Forge has raised private funding, identified niche markets and strengthened its core team and industrial organisation to bring these novel re-entry and recovery technologies to life,” said Jorgen Bru, ESA’s commercial services manager and technical officer for the contract.

“ESA is delighted to support Space Forge in its endeavour to prepare this service for the market.”

Initially, ForgeStar will only be capable of hosting payloads of a few kilograms on any single mission, though Space Forge says it intends to scale up the vehicle and increase this capacity tenfold in future versions. The programme’s microgravity-on-demand offering looks set to complement the capabilities of Space Rider, a much larger reusable space plane with a payload capacity of around 800kg, which has been in development by ESA for nearly a decade.

While microgravity is an attractive commercial aspect of the Space Rider mission, it’s 1200L cargo bay will also be capable of hosting Earth-observation and a range of other experimental science. ForgeStar’s more diminutive stature appears tailor-made to focus exclusively on microgravity and the materials and chemical science enabled by that environment.

“We’re thrilled to receive this support for the ForgeStar platform,” said Joshua Western, co-founder and CEO at Space Forge. “Sustainable return from space can unlock commercial opportunities not otherwise possible, and leverage Low Earth Orbit as a resource in a similar way to how reductions in launch prices have democratised access to space.

“Space Forge is uniquely positioned to multiply the value of microgravity research coupled with dedicated return and we cannot wait to see the positive impact this will have on commercial space.”

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