A British startup is preparing to launch a satellite that will produce new semiconductor materials that could be used in electronic devices on Earth. Space Forge and the satellite, named ForgeStar-1, are set to be sent to the United States. The launch is expected at the end of this year or the beginning of 2024.
Space Forge recently signed a collaboration agreement with the American aerospace giant Northrop Grumman to provide space-manufactured semiconductor substrates that Northrop can further develop in its own foundries.
Space Semiconductor Production
Semiconductor materials are essential for all types of electronic technologies. Their production on Earth is costly and energy-intensive. The vacuum and microgravity conditions of space, on the other hand, could allow for the development of completely new semiconductor materials much more efficiently.
“Producing compound semiconductors is a very intense and slow process; they are literally grown from atoms” said Josh Western, CEO and founder of Space Forge. “So gravity has a profound effect, essentially shifting the bonds between those atoms. In space, you can overcome that barrier because there is a reduction in gravity”.
Space also provides a perfect vacuum, necessary to protect sensitive material from contamination. In Earth’s factories, this vacuum must be created by industrial machines that consume a lot of energy. The combination of microgravity and the vacuum of space could enable researchers to create semiconductors that are 10 to 100 times more efficient than those on Earth.
From Experimental Launch to Production
Space Forge ‘s satellite, ForgeStar-1, the size of a microwave, contains a miniature automated chemical laboratory that will allow the team to develop new semiconductor alloys. But instead of sending the materials back to the planet, the satellite will transmit experimental results to scientists.
The company’s next mission will be to survive reentry into the atmosphere and bring its products back to Earth. The company will not focus exclusively on semiconductor production but will also use its satellites to host other industrial processes. Western stated that the first productive satellite could be launched within two or three years. The global semiconductor industry is currently worth over $500 billion and is expected to double in size by 2030.
“This growth is expected to require investments in materials, equipment, and advanced services for high-end wafer production” Space Forge stated. “Space production offers unique advantages such as microgravity and vacuum conditions that can lead to the creation of semiconductors with superior performance and reduced defects compared to those produced on Earth”.