Politecnico di Bari, Politecnico di Torino, Università degli Studi di Padova, Sapienza Università di Roma, Thales Alenia Space Italia S.p.A.
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:
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:
At the end of the first project the expected results are the definition:
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: