Large space structure manufacturing a step closer

Paul Boughton
Large structures such as solar sails or antenna reflectors will be built in space instead of on Earth if the latest project from Leicestershire-based Magna Parva is successful. Long range space  missions will use a technique developed to fabricate high strength materials of consistent quality that can then be assembled in situ into complex structures. These complex structures can be built to incorporate the specialised sensors as required for missions such as a manned Mars mission.

Magna Parva has been awarded a grant by the UK Technology Strategy Board to develop what it calls a ‘Consolidated Off Planet Manufacturing and Assembly System for Large Space Structures’ or COPMA for short. COPMA makes use of technology such as pultrusion (from ‘pull’ and ‘extrusion’), which is a continuous process of manufacturing composite materials of any length and with constant cross-section. Pultrusion is already used for making large structures often with directly embedded sensors such as stress sensors. Magna Parva hopes to apply this technology for space use.

One of the limiting factors in the development of space is the cost and complexity of launching large structures such as solar arrays from launch vehicles. With launch costs increasing, COPMA should provide a valuable alternative to pre-manufactured infrastructure components. When assembled in space, structures can be made thinner and use less material as they do not have to withstand the force of gravity.

“Development of the COPMA system plays directly to our strengths in extreme engineering”, says Magna Parva Commercial Director Andrew Bowyer. “We are very grateful to the Technology Strategy Board for their support of COPMA and the increased capability this gives us to tackle other related projects.”

The long term aim for COPMA Systems is to develop a space-based technology that allows manufacture of large structures with embedded sensors, electronics and actuators.

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