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Welsh company’s tech-building satellite to be shot into space from a Virgin jumbo jet

12 Mar 2022 3 minutes Read
Virgin Orbit picture by Österreichisches Weltraum Forum (CC BY-SA 4.0).

A Welsh space company’s tech-building satellite will be shot into orbit from a Virgin jumbo jet after they signed an agreement with Richard Branson’s firm.

Space Forge, which is based in Cardiff, will take part in the UK’s first satellite launch from Spaceport Cornwall, part of Newquay Airport.

It will be the first launch from UK soil with Virgin Orbit, which has already shot satellites into space for NASA and the US Department of Defense.

Virgin Orbit’s carrier aircraft is a modified Boeing 747 called Cosmic Girl which launches to 30,000 feet before shooting LauncherOne which contains the satellite from under its wing.

“We’re thrilled to be making UK history with our first launch,’ said Joshua Western, CEO of Cardiff-based Space Forge.

“We will demonstrate the use of space for good through in-space manufacturing and reliable return and it’s brilliant that both Virgin Orbit and Spaceport Cornwall share our ambitions.

“This is the start of a great collaboration and we are so excited to see where it goes.”

Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart said they were “delighted to have been chosen to move Space Forge forward in their space journey”.

“Space Forge is joining the growing community of space innovators advancing space technologies for the betterment of our world.

“Their commitment to sustainability builds a foundation for future growth in the industry that we at Virgin Orbit are proud to be part of.”

‘Niche’

The aim of the launch is to see whether reusable satellites that can manufacture technology in space can be launched into orbit and then return to earth when they are no longer useful.

In space, there is no gravity, it’s a pure vacuum and extreme temperature changes can be achieved by harnessing the power of the Sun, and therefore technology could be manufactured with just a quarter of emissions of a similar process on earth.

The launch this summer will be a test to see whether the satellites, called ForgeStar orbital vehicle, can safely return to earth once their work is done.

Space Forge’s CEO and co-founder Joshua Western told The Manufacturer that the idea was not new but they needed to provide the technology to make it happen.

“The lack of infrastructure available in space today (only the International Space Station being routinely available) means that there’s no way to scale the impact producing impossible materials in space can have on Earth,” he said.

“We saw that if you could provide both scalable platforms to produce these materials, and a way to bring them home, you could have an enormous positive impact on industry back on Earth.

“We’ve identified niche materials for markets ranging from telecommunications to renewable energy. Our goal is to be the world’s first truly carbon negative space company.”

Space Forge previously secured £7.6m of EU money as also in partnership with the Welsh Government and the UK Space Agency.

Virgin Orbit, based near Los Angeles, have been in discussions with the UK Government about using Newquay’s Spaceport Cornwall for satellite launches.

The spaceport could provide an alternative for companies now unable to use the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan due to the war in Ukraine.


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