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AIMPLAS participates in European Space Agency project to develop new materials under microgravity conditions in the Earth’s orbit

Space exploration has always been a driver of technological and industrial innovation. Developing new products and services by taking advantage of the conditions offered by the Earth’s orbit opens new opportunities for finding technical solutions that respond to the challenges of industry and engineering, while giving a powerful boost to a new economic sector of huge commercial potential. The Advanced Materials Accelerator was therefore created as an initiative of the Business in Space Growth Network (BSGN) Programme of the European Space Agency (ESA), where AIMPLAS is working to drive the development of new materials under the microgravity and vacuum conditions of space.

This is the Plastics Technology Centre’s first aerospace project and thus opens a new research area on advanced plastic materials whose quality and performance are much better than materials developed on Earth.

The BSGN accelerator is being developed by a European consortium of six leading space and materials companies, the Centre for Process Innovation (CPI), Satellite Applications Catapult, Innovate UK’s Knowledge Transfer Network, Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR) Institute of Materials Research, the National Composites Centre (NCC) and AIMPLAS.

The first phase of the project, led by Satellite Applications Catapult, will focus on generating interest and demand in the growing in-orbit servicing and manufacturing industry so that advanced manufacturing companies can explore the possibilities that space has to offer and get involved in the programme. The project focuses on five advanced materials technology areas: superalloys and hybrid materials; nanomaterials; advanced ceramics; novel polymers and fibres; and functional coatings and thin film systems.

“At AIMPLAS, we’re very proud of participating in this groundbreaking programme, which will allow us to explore the conditions for manufacturing new polymers and fibres in space to obtain improved advanced materials compared to products developed on Earth. Working under microgravity and vacuum conditions opens a world of possibilities for creating revolutionary next-generation materials. Identifying attractive projects for companies interested in exploring this pathway and supporting their developments in collaboration with industry is a major challenge and a great opportunity”, said Carolina Losada, the principal investigator for the project at AIMPLAS.

An initial budget of more than €400,000 and up to €5 million in future phases

Future phases will focus on upscaling the opportunities identified in phase one in each area, including in-orbit demonstrations and the delivery of prototype products. The first phase has a budget of €411,000, 67% of which was funded by ESA and 33% through an in-kind contribution from the project partners. The programme aims to guarantee at least €1 million in funding for future phases from ESA up to a maximum of €5 million.

The ESA’s BSGN Programme is aimed at stimulating non-space sectors for their potential to develop and deliver scalable, space-enabled applications, services, and products. The programme therefore favours the participation of private industries and research centres to adapt their know-how and capabilities to the aerospace sector and boost a new economy in the lower Earth orbit (LOE).