It is a tale as old as time. For as long as mankind has existed, we have looked to the skies above us and wondered what mysteries they held.
Thankfully, space has been within our reach for decades, and some of those mysteries are now known to us. But the space industry is one environment that is “totally changing”, according to Philippe Forestier, Executive Vice President of Global Affairs & Communities, Dassault Systémes.
“This market will be very demanding because the competition is changing completely,” Forestier remarked during a press conference at the recent 3DEXPERIENCE Forum Asia Pacific South 2018 in Adelaide, South Australia.
At the forum, leading experts from all over the world sat down with senior executives from Dassault Systémes to discuss trends in the sector. Here are three of them:
1. Mining asteroids
Asteroids hold promise within their bright, burning trails across the sky. They contain the same minerals found on earth, which means that they can be mined for resources. This is but one innovative new approach for space, said Pierre Marchadier, Vice President in charge of Business Transformation, Tech Sales, Innovation and Strategy, during a keynote speech.
Some space agencies are already exploring the potential of this. NASA has developed an Asteroid Redirect Mission with the goal of extracting a boulder from a near-earth asteroid – asteroids which have orbits that bring them within close reach of the Earth – so that astronauts can study what it can offer.
Space could in fact turn out to be a more conducive environment to mining than Earth is: mining is a very energy-intensive industry, but there could be methods of harvesting energy for asteroid mining from the sun. With subzero temperatures, there will not be a need for refrigeration. Furthermore, microgravity will mean no need for heavy machinery.
2. Startups and low-cost launches
The private sector space startups SpaceX and Blue Origin need no introduction. They have successfully launched reusable rockets in recent years, and have leveraged on new technologies and techniques to make them low-cost as well.
They represent a wave of new, agile startups that are working very differently from the traditional players. “Now, we start to see entrepreneurs or small companies developing rockets. Blue Origin from Amazon launched a rocket; who could believe Amazon could build a rocket and send people into space, and have it come back?” Forestier pointed out.
It is no secret, however, that space exploration is highly risky. Dassault Systèmes’ 3DEXPERIENCE platform can play a key role in helping engineers get things right from the start, by allowing them to create virtual, no-risk worlds. “If you use simulation, you can challenge many scenarios and opportunities,” remarked Marchadier during his speech. “At the end of the day, you can consider even something which cannot happen.”
This is crucial, considering the amount of money that goes into space missions, even for launching smaller objects such as nanosatellites, Marchadier went on to say. “You have to be sure at the end of the day it will be in the right position.”
3. Additive manufacturing
Additive manufacturing is another trend that is on the rise in the space sector, according to Forestier. “We see the new manufacturing techniques like additive manufacturing coming out, which is not a surprise because it’s not a large number of parts that will be made,” Forestier explained.
It is essentially 3D printing. Instead of shaving bits off of a block of a metal alloy to get the part that you want, additive manufacturing prints what is needed, and no more.
This allows engineers to focus less on the restrictions imposed by subtractive manufacturing, and more on crucial questions: What is the functional objective of the part? Can it be designed with the same functional characteristics, but use less material? Can there be cost-savings from optimised additive parts?
Dassault Systémes can also help here – its custom solutions allow engineers to capture the multi-scale and multi-physics nature of the manufacturing process. Furthermore, as Marchadier explained, “additive manufacturing is interesting because then you can create the satellite or system the right way without having pressure from manufacturers”.
These three trends illustrate how the rules of the game have changed. New technologies and approaches are turning the space industry on its head, at a lightning-fast speed. For space agencies to keep up, they need to think out of the box – the sky is not the limit anymore.
Image from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA