Space Image

European Startup Plans For On-Orbit manufacturing As Thales Alenia Space Closes Deal

Thales Alena Space closes the deal in order to study and develop a reusable spacecraft for in-orbit manufacturing with Space Cargo Unlimited, a Luxembourg-based company.

  • More details coming soon...


Sun Jan 15 2023Written by Lucca

As more space companies arise in competition for the market of reusable rockets, more innovative designs are constantly created in order to keep up with the innovations of the market. The bet on the in-orbit manufacturing industry has been made as a European venture tasks Thales Alenia Space to develop a vehicle called REV1 for missions starting in late 2025.

Thales Alenia Space, a french-Italian space venture signed a first phase contract for the REV1 reusable and pressurized space factory in early December 2022 with Space Cargo Unlimited, an eight-year-old Luxembourg-based company that seeks funds in order to develop a microgravity research and manufacturing business.

The company says an uncrewed system like REV1 could be more flexible and cheaper by avoiding the numerous safety measures needed to support human activities as it faces competition such as Axiom Space, a Texas-based company that projects to have the first-ever commercial space station online by 2024.

Thales Alenia Space is responsible for designing, engineering, and developing REV1, which is about the size of a compact car and would be owned and operated commercially by Space Cargo Unlimited. The small space factory is being designed to carry up to 1,000 kilograms (or roughly 2,204 pounds) of payload in low Earth orbit, where it would dock with a Reusable Orbiting Service Module which Thales Alenia Space is currently developing; such service module is to have solar panels and electric thrusters to remain in orbit for about 10 years.

After completing its mission, a heat shield fitted to REV1 would enable it to reenter Earth’s atmosphere for a parachute-assisted landing. The project targets markets such as biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, and other manufacturers that may look to develop new materials in space.

REV1 has “a number of exciting in-space manufacturing payloads from defining customers we will be unveiling as we get closer to launch,” Said Nicolas Gaume, Space Cargo Unlimited’s CEO and co-founder. The spacecraft would also assist agricultural experiments the venture has already been facilitating on the International Space Station for growing vines and maturing wine in microgravity. 

The CEO has also affirmed that the project might help in other in-orbit development and tests, such as beds for propulsion systems; he adds: “The first case for the failure of satellites lies with their propulsion systems (..) and if you think about it most of the satellite’s propulsion systems are not tested in Space, and when they are, they do not come back, increasing dramatically the cost and timing of developing a new system. By opening the possibility to test rapidly and return, we accelerate and support the whole Space ecosystem.”.

Space Cargo Unlimited and Thales Alenia Space hope to build a “space garage” in Turin, Italy, in order to support REV1 and other spacecrafts. European private equity enterprise Eurazeo is Space Cargo Unlimited’s main financial backer and shareholder, while the company has also secured investments from Thales’ venture capital arm and European early-stage investor Geodesic in order to successfully complete its plans.