In the near future, space satellites willproduced not on Earth, but directly in its orbit. The construction of the first ever satellite manufacturing plant in history was recently sponsored by the European Space Agency (ESA). It allocated about 3 million euros for this business, which at the current exchange rate is equal to about 265 million rubles. Airbus will be engaged in the creation of the space plant - it has two years to develop a test version of the plant. It turns out that already in 2023 we will be able to observe how spacecraft will be created in the orbit of our planet. Only some people may have a question: why is all this needed? After all, space satellites have been created on Earth for more than half a century, go into space and work great. In fact, mankind has needed a space plant for a long time and now you will be convinced of this.
The first space plant in history
The project to create the first space plantcalled PERIOD, which stands for PERaspera In-Orbit Demonstration. Airbus will play the main role in the project, but it will also be assisted by another 7 third-party companies. They will have one important goal - to learn how to collect satellites outside our planet. Most likely, the first orbital plant will be a robot with one mechanical arm. This mechanism will be able to take relatively small parts and put them together to create a large space satellite. In approximately the same way, the ISS and the Soviet Mir station were built at one time - their component parts were delivered into orbit separately and only then were connected together.
At the moment, it is known that the mechanical armwill have replaceable nozzles. It is unlikely that the developed robot will be autonomous - to save money, it will most likely be fixed on the ISS. At the first stages of work, the structure will assemble fragments of space satellites, large in size, but simple in execution. These include antenna arrays, solar panels, and so on. It is also possible that the robot will be able to replace faulty parts of existing devices.
See also: Why did Starlink satellites become invisible to the human eye?
Assembling satellites in space
The need for such a space plant is alreadylong. At the moment, launch vehicles cannot lift too heavy loads, because objects can only be placed in the head fairing. So the easiest way is to divide the constituent elements of the satellites into parts and send them one by one, so that later they can be safely connected together in earth orbit. It will take several rocket launches to assemble a large satellite. It is quite expensive, but so far this method is best for assembling large spacecraft.
Interesting fact: the popular Falcon 9 launch vehicle can launchinto a low reference orbit (220 kilometers) a load weighing up to 9000 kilograms. A competitor to this rocket is being developed by Rocket Lab - its Neutron rocket will be able to deliver about the same number of objects. Only now, none of these rockets can deliver very large spacecraft into orbit.
At the assembly of spacecraft directly onEarth orbit has another plus. When engineers assemble structures on Earth, they need to make the hull as strong as possible so that it can withstand the load when the rocket is launched. And if you collect satellites outside the Earth, such strength will be useless. In general, the construction of a space plant should speed up and reduce the cost of creating satellites. So ESA and Airbus are to be commended for their zeal.
However, they are not the only ones who want to establishproduction of devices in space. In 2021, the US launched the NOM4D program, in which scientists want to develop a method for producing vehicles not only in Earth orbit, but also on the lunar surface. The organizers of the project want to create at least something sane in the next 5 years. It seems that something very interesting awaits us in the future. I would like to know if Russia, China and other countries will prepare something similar?
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On the topic of satellites, I wrote relatively recentlyhere is this article. Have you ever wondered why space satellites are always made of metal and not, say, wood? Within the framework of this material, I told what kind of metals most satellites are made of and still can they be made from wood. Spoiler alert: you can.