Cardiff-based startup Space Forge, who are creating the world’s first returnable and reusable satellite platform, partner with high-precision Space Situational Awareness (SSA) company, Lumi Space for the first launch of their satellite platform this summer. 

As the countdown to the UK’s first satellite launch continues, today in-space manufacturing tech start-up Space Forge have announced a new collaboration with Lumi Space, who are creating the world's first global commercial satellite laser ranging service to enable a sustainable future for space. This partnership will see these two innovative companies lift-off together from Spaceport Cornwall this summer, on board Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl which will deploy multiple satellites into Low Earth Orbit. 

Lumi Space is the front runner in the production and the use of ultra-high-precision space situational awareness (SSA) products. Their newly developed and commercially available SLR system is an innovation well suited to the progressive New Space evolution – levelling up the precision, sustainability, and accessibility of satellite tracking services. 

Space Forge is making space ‘work for humanity’ - seeking to harness the power of microgravity, offering an on demand service to advance the expansion of the in-space manufacturing market for premium research and development applications. Space Forge recently announced that it is developing a world-first service incorporating both launch and return of a new small class of vehicle - the ForgeStar - that can be deployed from conventional launchers to provide rapid, reliable and reusable in-space infrastructure. This inaugural mission will see Space Forge’s ForgeStar-0 platform launched for the first time and will test future return from space technology.  The collaboration will see Lumi Space trialling their innovative laser technology to track Space Forge’s ForgeStar-0 on its descent.  

Both the ForgeStar-0 and Lumi’s SLR system have been developed with future-facing progression in mind: making super material production, active clean up and infrastructure construction cheaper, lighter, more accessible – and wholly reliable. 

Andrew Bacon, CTO & Co-founder, Space Forge: “To ensure our ForgeStar platform can be returned to earth accurately and enable access to microgravity on demand we need innovative technologies like those that Lumi are developing. Tracking a tiny satellite moving at nearly eight kilometres per second will be an impressive feat and we can’t wait to use the data to improve our understanding of the way we fly through the upper atmosphere.”

There’s an unprecedented amount of space debris in uncontrolled orbit and collisions with space infrastructure can have severe consequences. With the number of in-orbit satellites growing rapidly (an estimated 100k by the end of the decade) so too is the risk of collision. In turn, the industry is seeing an increased number of satellite collision warnings – most of which are often ignored (thanks to the 99.9% false-positive warning rate).

Aligning with Space Forge’s revolutionary mission, Lumi Space intends to reduce the rate of false-positive warnings to less than 5%, ensuring that when warnings are triggered, necessary action can be taken, and true collisions avoided. Laser ranging is a key step to avoiding these collisions. Their precise satellite ranging service is 1000 x more accurate at tracking satellites than the current methods used. Documenting the precise arc that a satellite travels on throughout the atmosphere is critical for refining satellite-landing predictions and future models. 

Hira Virdee, CEO and Founder, Lumi Space: “Current space surveillance data lacks accuracy. Applications such as in-space manufacturing, active debris removal and rendezvous/proximity operations are all enhanced or enabled with better space situational awareness. We’re pleased to support Space Forge and look forward to tracking ForgeStar-0.” 

Alongside this innovative SLR system, Lumi Space has advanced their retroreflector technology, which makes locating and ranging to objects much easier. It enables laser light to bounce off the satellite back to the sender on the ground – without the need for the satellite to point precisely at the station. Not only a vital component of Lumi Space’s ground-breaking SLR service, these retroreflectors are both low cost, the lightest on the market – and currently the only ones commercially available. Lumi Space and many other industry experts believe the tech will play an integral role in the tracking and active removal of space debris.

Ian Annett, Deputy Chief Executive at the UK Space Agency, said: “Britain is leading the way in the sustainable use of space so it is fantastic to see two innovative UK companies working together to put satellite tracking at the heart of Space Forge’s operations. We are on the cusp of a historic moment, with the first satellite launch from UK soil set to unleash a new wave of innovation, creating opportunities for people and businesses, like Space Forge and Lumi Space, across the country.”

Last week (23 June) the UK Government launched a new Plan for Space Sustainability. The raft of measures demonstrate the UK’s commitment, ambition and drive to improve the UK’s sustainable use of space. Enabling reliable return will be an important facet of the UK’s ambitions to become a leader in space sustainability, and innovative technology like that being trialled on this mission will be key to enabling this long term practice.  

Whilst Space Forge will benefit from highly accurate data and tracking insights during their first mission, other satellite missions can also expect better predictions for future recoveries. Both Space Forge and Lumi Space are aligned in their ambitions to increase the sustainable use of, and access to space. They intend to use the data from this launch to further their missions - exploring ways to mitigate space activity risk – whilst unlocking the incomprehensible potential Space has to offer.