Set to launch in 2022, ForgeStar is a reusable, suitcase-sized vehicle that will be capable of remaining in low Earth orbit (LEO) for up to six months before returning safely to Earth. The microgravity environment onboard the vehicle will be used as a testing ground for in-orbit validation/demonstration (IOV/IOD) of new materials and new pharmaceutical compounds.
ESA is supporting the project through a two-year contract worth €2m within its Boost! programme. This funding covers the preliminary and detailed design phases, plus launch, in-orbit operation and return of the first operational demonstration vehicle.
“Space Forge has raised private funding, identified niche markets and strengthened its core team and industrial organisation to bring these novel re-entry and recovery technologies to life,” said Jorgen Bru, ESA’s commercial services manager and technical officer for the contract.
Initially, ForgeStar will host payloads of a few kilograms on any single mission, though the company said it intends to scale up the vehicle and increase this capacity tenfold in future versions. The programme’s microgravity-on-demand offering looks set to complement the capabilities of Space Rider, a much larger reusable space plane with a payload capacity of around 800kg, which has been in development by ESA for nearly a decade.
“We’re thrilled to receive this support for the ForgeStar platform,” said Joshua Western, co-founder and CEO at Cardiff-based start-up Space Forge. “Sustainable return from space can unlock commercial opportunities not otherwise possible, and leverage Low Earth Orbit as a resource in a similar way to how reductions in launch prices have democratised access to space.
“Space Forge is uniquely positioned to multiply the value of microgravity research coupled with dedicated return and we cannot wait to see the positive impact this will have on commercial space.”