Wales’ first-ever satellite set to be blasted into space within weeks
The first satellite designed and built in Wales is set to be launched into space next month. The ForgeStar-0 satellite has been designed by Cardiff-based startup Space Forge, which is creating the world’s first returnable and reusable satellite platform to allow humanity to harness the power of microgravity and potentially transform manufacturing forever.
It will be launched on Virgin Orbit’s Start Me Up mission, the first-ever satellite launch from UK soil, in Cornwall in November.
Founded in 2018 by friends Joshua Western and Andrew Bacon, Space Forge is aiming to lead a “new clean industrial revolution” by harnessing the unique conditions of space. The company is developing fully returnable satellites that are designed for manufacturing next generation ‘super materials’ in space including new alloys, medicines, and semiconductors.
These materials could be used in everything from building stronger aircraft to replacing parts of the power grid while its inventors also plan for the technology to be used in vaccine research and bioprinting organs, which is incredibly difficult to do on Earth but relatively straightforward in outer space. Research also suggests that manufacturing these materials in space could reduce CO2 emissions by 75% in high-value infrastructure from EV charging stations to cloud computing data centres.
Speaking to WalesOnline last year Joshua said: “Earth is a pretty bad place to make things. Its dense atmosphere, consistent temperatures and, of course, gravity weighing us down means that we’re always fighting against the natural environment. In space that’s not a problem.
“By the end of the decade everybody in the UK will be using something that has been made in space in their everyday lives but they probably won’t realise it. It might be in a cell tower that promotes your mobile signal, it might be a port you plug your car into, it might be part of a turbine that gives you your energy. Manufacturing using microgravity will happen soon regardless – we’re just trying to do it first.”The fully returnable satellite will be used to manufacture next generation ‘super materials’ in space
Andrew added: “Say you’re making an aluminium alloy. On Earth if you’re mixing the metals together they will separate into two layers with the heavy lead below and the aluminium at the top. But in microgravity you don’t have that problem and you can actually mix them together properly.
“There’s also no contamination from the air – no oxygen leaking to create an oxide. The unique conditions make space a far better place for making things than here on Earth.”
To enable this revolutionary work to begin, Space Forge is developing a world-first service incorporating both launch and return of a new small class of vehicle – the ForgeStar – that can be deployed from conventional launchers to provide rapid, reliable, and reusable in-space infrastructure. Working with the Virgin Orbit team at Spaceport Cornwall the company has now integrated its ForgeStar-0 satellite, which took five months to build, into the Virgin Orbit launch system.
This launch will test the deployment of Space Forge’s proprietary re-entry shield. During future operational missions this will protect a satellite traveling through the heat of the atmospheric re-entry, targeting small landing zones off the coast of the UK and other countries.
In a nod to the company’s Welsh home the inaugural voyage into Low Earth Orbit has been given the mission name Genir Seren or ‘A New Star’. Joshua said integrating their invention into the launch system was an “incredible moment” for the Space Forge team. “He added: “Everyone has worked extremely hard to build this satellite in just five months – and we are going to be sending Wales’ first satellite into space. What’s brilliant is how this is just the start for us.”
Andrew added: “ForgeStar-0 is the dress rehearsal for a new class of satellites that can both survive launch and re-entry without leaving any debris behind. This opens up new possibilities to the advanced materials community to make use of ultra-perfect conditions space provides to challenge the way some of our most polluting industries are run. I am brimming with pride for our team who stepped up to build this satellite in record time and we are eagerly awaiting the lessons that it can teach us about how our technology performs in space before our first fully functional space factory is launched next year.”
The satellite launch will be the first ever to take place on UK soil. Matt Archer, director of commercial spaceflight at the UK Space Agency, said it was an “exciting time” for the British space industry and a “huge moment” for the Welsh company.
“We have seen Virgin Orbit’s rocket and carrier aircraft arrive safely at Spaceport Cornwall and now Space Forge’s satellite has been integrated, ready to start its journey to space,” he said. “It will be fantastic to see Wales’ first satellite in orbit.
“Space Forge is an innovative, fast-growing company harnessing the benefits of the space environment to create materials far superior to those we can produce on Earth, which can be used to speed up electric car charging or improve the lifetime of aircraft engines. This is a huge moment for Space Forge and I wish them all the best, along with Spaceport Cornwall and Virgin Orbit.”