5.04 EFESTO – Factory on the Space – Shaping the Scenario

Sergio Terzi
Gennaio 2023
Dicembre 2023
Politecnico di Milano

Politecnico di Bari, Politecnico di Torino, Università degli Studi di Padova, Sapienza Università di Roma, Thales Alenia Space Italia S.p.A. 

5.04 EFESTO – Factory on the Space – Shaping the Scenario

Earth is a finite ground, capable to provide a wide set of raw materials but with well-known characteristics and in most cases in limited quantities. Human beings are progressively coping with important mega trends, while compelling to expand their field of action and in the long run to look for a new home. Not by chance, the last decades have seen an increasing interest in the space exploration, and day after day it has become evident that the capacity of operating in the space is a strategic asset both for terrestrial than extraterrestrial applications. However, up to now, all the structures in space are dependent on many constraints mainly linked to the launch systems, which affect cost, volume and mass. Performing part of the manufacturing & assembly processes directly in space rather than on Earth could be a possible solution to avoid or minimize this issue.

The capability to launch single components of a large structures and robotically assembly them in space would open new avenues as it allows the assembling of large space infrastructures including habitats, large telescopes and platforms that could not be launched in assembled configuration. At the same time, the fabrication of components in space would eliminate the need to launch different items (including contingency components) in advance and it also allows the production of monolithic large structures.

Following the proposal of Thales Alenia Space, the EP MICS aims to analyze and investigate the peculiarities and challenges of an infrastructure, a so-called “Factory in space” able to perform all or part of the activities previously listed. Due to its visionary and transversal nature, the project has been chosen as one of MICS flagship projects and has strong links with all the spokes, even if it has been in the Spoke 5.

The definition of the characteristics of the factory in the Space could be initially derived from what is meant for production systems on Earth, proceeding with an analogy logic. To understand which features should be deployed and employed in these new extra-terrestrial manufacturing systems, the aleatory and unpredictable boundaries of environmental landscapes in the Space should be explored and made clear.
The concept of the “Factory in space” will be approached step by step through yearly project. The goals of the first project – one year long – are the definition:

  • of the operative scenarios
  • of the boundaries of the study cases
  • the main building blocks of the platforms (on-orbit vs on surface) and the related enabling technologies

In general, the objective of the first year will be the identification of all the elements whose feasibility will be studied in the following phases. Emphasis will be done to the assembly, integration and manufacturing, technologies (e.g. AM) adequate for space application, as well as to the distribution chains and logistic tasks design, capacity and capability planning and layout definition


In some way, the idea behind this project aims to satisfy the market of isolated communities. These subjects, even if very different among them, often cope with similar issues and require smart and integrated solutions to ensure their enduring. Considering isolated villages, artic scientific base, military colony in the desert, offshore platform, or even space stations many issues are very similar, and the solutions adapt in one case can be also fruitfully exploited for the others. These communities rely on a delicate link with the external, usually hostile, environment and their equilibrium is often delicate and unstable. Solutions proposed to guarantee the survival of such complex systems, are related to different topics, and shall guarantee to be:

  • sustainable, with respect to the energy production cycle
  • stable over long time considering different capabilities: (i) to cope with the waste recycling issue, (ii) produce long term affordable provisions, and (iii) to own monitoring and maintenance autonomy for handling latent failures.
  • not exposed to catastrophic fails due to the human presence and unexpected events using high-density smart sensors integrated in infrastructures, hosted on board fleet of drones or even wearable by humans supported in operations by a virtual network of augmented reality.

At the end of the first project the expected results are the definition:

  • of the operative scenarios;
  • of the boundaries of the study cases;
  • the main building blocks of the platforms (on-orbit vs on surface) and the related enabling technologies.

In summary, the project will deliver the functionalities of the platform at high level and define a roadmap of the enabling technologies. Among the different elements, the scenarios definition will consider:

  • Data acquisition. A cutting-edge system of sensors and actuators arranged in a grid-like structure cannable the measurement and analysis of the space environmental properties while also activating information or operations autonomously. The network’s innovative feature lies in the self-governing capabilities of sensors and the synchronized collaboration of all network elements. An instance of this cooperation is the utilization of data gathered by one element to determine the position of another element. This innovation is useful in identifying malfunctions and carrying out repairs in a space environment.
  • Human interface. Special tech-suite equipped with sensors can monitor and identify various movements and actions made by humans. This outfit can communicate with other parts of a smart system, such as the energy grid or a network of sensors, to avoid dangerous situations, provide guidance, or request additional energy. By integrating with human interfaces, the project aims to facilitate remote operations like tele-operations or tele-maintenance and include augmented reality solutions.
  • Complex Systems. Capabilities for managing complex systems can involves the modelling using agents. These agents exchange information and knowledge and display various behaviours in multi-agent systems. Resilience engineering will be an area of research to increase the ability of socio-technical systems to function under expected and unexpected conditions by adjusting their operations before, during, or after changes or disturbances. The development of smart systems is a key focus for space environment.