The start-up Space Cargo Unlimited launches the first space factory

In the space field, the French lack neither ideas nor initiatives. After the Zéphyr micro-rocket (Latitude), the minivan transporting small satellites (Exotrail), the reusable spacecraft transporting freight (The Exploration Company) and solar-powered sailing (Gama), it is time for REV1, the first factory of the ‘space.

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This project was presented on Thursday, October 27 in Luxembourg, by the start-up Space Cargo Unlimited (SCU), during the NewSpace Europe conference. It is a fully automated vehicle, in which companies will be able to manufacture new products. Put into orbit 350 or 450 kilometers from Earth, the 4.5-meter-wide capsule designed by Thales Alenia Space will remain in space for several months before returning. The first flight is scheduled for the end of 2025.

“In the absence of Earth’s gravity, you will have more homogeneous materials”, explains SCU CEO and co-founder Nicolas Gaume, taking the example of alloys where, currently, the heaviest metal goes down and the lightest goes up. Same homogeneity requirement for fluorine-based optical fiber, “one hundred times more conductive than conventional fiber, but very hard to manufacture on Earth”.

Several interested sectors

This weightless environment should interest pharmaceuticals for the development of stem cells or cosmetics because of a “better crystallization”. However, it was in agriculture that the first tests took place, within the framework of the Wise project, carried out with the National Center for Space Studies and the Institute of Vine and Wine Sciences in Bordeaux, and intended to find grape varieties that are more resistant to global warming.

Three hundred and twenty vines – half Cabernet, half Merlot – thus stayed on the International Space Station for ten months, locked in a dark box maintained at a temperature of 2°C to 3°C. “Gravity being the backbone of life on Earth, its absence put them in a state of absolute stress, explains the Bordeaux entrepreneur. This allowed us to measure their reaction and adaptation” compared to the same box remained on Earth. The idea is then to see how these plants behave once replanted.

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Before this floating factory project in low orbit, Nicolas Gaume made a name for himself in video games. In 1990, at the age of 19, he launched Kalisto, which went bankrupt twelve years later. Since then, he has developed various companies on the Web, before becoming passionate about space in 2014. “This is my eighth start-up”specifies this fifties, convinced that manufacturing in orbit prefigures the next industrial revolution.

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