Thales Alenia Space, a joint venture between Thales (67%) and Leonardo (33%), and Space Cargo Unlimited, have announced the signing of the first phase contract for the conception and production for “REV1”, the first floating space factory, and the opening of a Space Cargo Unlimited subsidiary in Turin.
Founded in 2014, Space Cargo Unlimited is Europe’s leading private commercial operator of space vehicles dedicated to Space manufacturing. With the ambition to eventually exploit a fleet of autonomous space vehicles, Space Cargo Unlimited will pave the way for a real democratization of access to space.
As project contractor, Thales Alenia Space will be responsible for the design, engineering, and development of the REV1 vehicle. Space Cargo Unlimited will be the owner and commercial operator of the vehicle. Space thus becomes closer to the aviation sector, where aircraft manufacturers have long collaborated with airline operators.
“The opening of our Turin office in the coming weeks will allow us to take a position at the heart of the Italian space ecosystem, one of the most dynamic in Europe, and to work for the development of REV1 in close collaboration with Thales Alenia Space, the European leader in space infrastructure for more than 40 years,” Says Nicolas Gaume, CEO and co-founder of Space Cargo Unlimited.
“The signature of this contract demonstrates once again the leading role of Thales Alenia Space in low orbit re-entry systems. We are delighted to be the partner of choice of Space Cargo Unlimited and to put at their service our unparalleled expertise in the development of reusable re-entry systems and pressurized modules,” Says Massimo Comparini, Chairman and Deputy Chief Executive Officer and SEVP of Observation, Exploration, and Navigation at Thales Alenia Space.“ “By taking a central place in new space initiatives and teaming up with innovative start-ups willing to take on new challenges, Thales Alenia Space is proud to embark on a new adventure that highlights the growing strategic importance of the space sector. This project will be crucial to improving the technological capabilities of the European space industry, by placing both companies at the forefront of the New Space economy through novel space applications”.
After designing and manufacturing almost 50% of the international Space Station pressurized volume, including the “Cupola”, Thales Alenia Space is today the main contractor for the Lunar Gateway, being also the Pressurized Cargo Module provider for all Northrop Grumman Cygnus fleet. Moreover, the company was in the recent past prime contractor for the flight-proven Intermediate Experimental Reentry Vehicle (IXV), continuing today as co-prime with AVIO of its “Space Rider” extension, a multi-mission autonomous space vehicle commissioned by the European Space Agency, for which Thales Alenia Space is currently working on future developments, or paving the way for more accessible and agile use of LEO, via automatic reusable vehicles.
“It is precisely this unique expertise in Europe that Space Cargo Unlimited has come to seek for its REV1 spacecraft, which will constitute a specialized platform for in space experimentation and manufacturing.” Continues Nicolas Gaume.
Space Cargo Unlimited plans to commercially operate a fleet of autonomous (i.e. unmanned) cargo vehicles capable of returning to Earth in order to exploit the potential of microgravity for commercial applications on Earth. The REV1 pressurized vehicle -a real floating space factory- will be used for specific missions, especially in the fields of biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, agriculture, and new materials. REV1 will be able to create unique laboratory conditions and real clean rooms essential for this type of research and manufacturing.
The first REV1 vehicle, scheduled for launch in late 2025, will need to be able to adapt to any available and compatible launcher system. This last feature will make it unique to carry out new missions, especially in an equatorial orbit. Designed to be reusable for a total of 20 missions, the REV1 will carry payloads for 2-3 months in space.
One of the ambitions of the partnership between the two companies is also to build a real “Space Garage” in Turin to maintain, repair, and overhaul future spacecrafts, such as REV1 operated by Space Cargo Unlimited
This partnership agreement fully reflects Thales Alenia Space’s «New Space» approach, which includes creating more and more synergies with start-ups and offering disruptive solutions, such as REV1, the first Space Factory, to evolve existing models. In the field of space exploration, Thales Alenia Space has already signed partnerships with emblematic start-ups. Moreover, the goal of the project initiated with Space Cargo Unlimited is perfectly in line with Thales Alenia Space’s «Space for life» vision, by helping to make life better and more sustainable on Earth thanks to space.
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