SpaceX will launch a “factory” in space in 2023

Why create a factory on Earth when you can have one in space? An American startup has the project to deploy a kind of factory in orbit around the Earth. This modest-sized prototype will be shipped by SpaceX in 2023.

Earth orbit has already been the scene of all kinds of expeditions. We have sent satellites, rockets, shuttles, telescopes, stations, astronauts, animals, tourists and even machines whose role we are not too sure of. But factories in space? This is out of the ordinary. This step aside in the daily life of aerospace is proposed by the startup Varda Space Industries.

A factory prototype in orbit in 2023

She dreams of being able to deploy production means in orbit in order to benefit, she explains on her site, from manufacturing conditions in microgravity. For this, a fairly long space stay is planned, because the effects of microgravity will not be noticeable before. And precisely, this dream should be materialized as early as 2023, with a very first shipment, reports SpaceNews.

It is with the help of SpaceX that the Varda factory will leave Earth, using a Falcon 9 rocket. The machine will in principle remain in space for three months before returning. More precisely, it is an atmospheric re-entry capsule which will make the way back. It is not clear if the production unit itself is intended to remain up there or if it will have to be thrown into the atmosphere to burn up.

We do not yet know what volume the manufacturing plant and atmospheric re-entry capsule couple will occupy, but it is clear that Varda will take advantage of SpaceX’s space carpooling service to transport its prototype. This consists of bringing together several customers who would not have the means to pay for a flight alone so that they can afford it by leaving together.

A question arises: what type of production would have enough value to accept the necessarily high costs of an industrial deployment in space, when one could object that it is enough to build a factory on Earth, for a lesser amount? ? TechCrunch suggests particular materials, such as fabrics from bio-printing or specialized semiconductors, could justify this venture.

Another difficulty that must be taken into account: access to space for a plant, a fortiori state-of-the-art, requires ensuring that no instrument suffers the slightest disruption so that it is fully operational once the plant in place. Indeed, takeoff causes strong jolts and vibrations. However, otherwise more valuable and fragile payloads have already taken off without a hitch.

The take-off in early 2023 will be a great first for Varda and the success of this first test will determine the profile of the other two take-offs. Varda will only be responsible for manufacturing the factory: for the space vehicle that will host it, as for the atmospheric re-entry capsule, it will be Rocket Lab, a rival company of SpaceX. The startup wants to be able to repatriate between 40 and 60 kg of manufactured products.

It should be noted that if the path taken by Varda is unusual, this company is not necessarily the first to survey it. We could for example point out that the International Space Station has benefited from a state-of-the-art three-dimensional printer which makes it possible to manufacture certain tools. There are also other projects, encouraged by NASA or the European Union, on this subject.

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