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The space factory of the future

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This summer will mark the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission when astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took humanity’s first steps on the moon. While space continues to inspire us as the Final Frontier, it should no longer be intimidating.

It is clearer than ever that the next landmark achievement will be credited to business rather than a government agency. Only last month NASA announced they would start opening up the International Space Station to commercial activities and the UK Space Agency announced support for the second commercial spaceport in the UK.

Turning excitement into revenue

Private spaceflight is not the only growing new application of space. UK businesses are developing robotics for manufacturing in space. Satellite constellations will offer faster connectivity anywhere or live environmental monitoring data.

While the opportunities are endless to list, let’s take a look at the hard numbers. NSR predicts that the satellite manufacturing and space launch markets will generate $ 225 billion in the next decade.

Total UK space industry income grew to £14.8 billion in 2016/17, a growth rate of 3.3% per annum during that period. The sector has been growing steadily in the last decade, unaffected by the 2008 financial crisis, but in single-digit numbers.

Regulation, finance & costs

How can we move away from steady (or even sluggish)  growth and grasp all the exciting opportunities? We’re not short of visionary individuals but need fit for purpose regulation, more investment and cost reductions. Sure, these factors relate to all sectors but some still view space as prohibitively expensive and too difficult to access.

To succeed, we have to manufacture differently: more standardised, more repeatable, at scale, faster, with more operational autonomy in mind. Whether its rockets, satellites, space components or antennas on the ground we need to evolve our factories.

Industry 4.0: Just hype or opportunity?

In 2018 Innovate UK commissioned London Economics to explore the benefits for space manufacturing from Industry 4.0 or the use of Industrial Digital Tools (IDTs). Results were really encouraging, we have already embraced Additive Manufacturing, with the potential of reducing satellite manufacturing costs by 48%.

The next generation of tools has even greater potential such as developing a Digital Twin, as a software representation of a satellite from design to space, which will shorten the cost and duration of testing. Linking up the supply chain digitally will drive further efficiencies. And there are more areas than we think in Assembly, Integration and Test that Cobots can be used cost efficiently.

Manufacturing Made Smarter – Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund

During our consultation, we registered the need for government to do more, including funding the development and demonstration of digital tools for space.

Manufacturing Made Smarter, part of the Industrial Strategy Challenge fund, is now open for proposals through the first Fast Start competition. The programme will benefit from the leadership of the Made Smarter Commission and will work with regional pilots that promote adoption of IDTs.

Space is definitely in scope and it’s the perfect opportunity to work across sectors to develop standardised digital solutions to common challenges. So, find out more, get in touch if you need us, don’t be left behind in the next Industrial Revolution!


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