A Welsh design firm called Space Forge is making strides in the development of reusable satellites with their innovative foldable heat shield. Unlike retired satellites that usually disintegrate upon reentry into Earth’s atmosphere, Space Forge’s shield, named Pridwen after King Arthur’s legendary shield, is engineered with a durable alloy capable of withstanding the extreme temperatures generated by atmospheric friction. The company has been dedicated to perfecting this technology for over four years, thanks to funding from the U.K. Space Agency and the European Space Agency (ESA).

Pridwen is designed to unfold prior to reentry, effectively redirecting heat away from the satellite and enabling a controlled descent back to Earth for future use. This breakthrough aims to emulate SpaceX’s success in revolutionizing the rocket industry through the reusability of its Falcon 9 boosters. Space Forge seeks to replicate this achievement with satellites, which are typically rendered useless at the end of their operational lives.

In addition to the foldable heat shield, Space Forge is also working on an autonomous water-based vehicle called Fielder. The company envisions Fielder playing a crucial role in establishing in-orbit manufacturing infrastructure by capturing incoming spacecraft. By harnessing the potential of supermaterials manufactured in space, Space Forge aims to significantly reduce energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions on Earth, surpassing what terrestrial counterparts can achieve. Andrew Bacon, CTO and co-founder of Space Forge, expressed this vision, stating, “Pridwen and Fielder are key components of our plan to develop fully reusable manufacturing satellites that can initiate a new industrial revolution.”

To validate the effectiveness of the Pridwen technology, Space Forge has conducted wind tunnel tests and dropped prototypes from high-altitude balloons. However, their ultimate goal is to test the shield in actual orbit using the ForgeStar-1A satellite, set to launch from the United States later this year. ForgeStar serves as Space Forge’s concept for a reusable platform that will act as an in-orbit manufacturing hub for clients, with Pridwen and Fielder playing integral roles. In 2021, Space Forge secured $10.2 million in funding to operate ForgeStar and is currently seeking a suitable headquarters location in the United States.

Foldable satellite technology has gained popularity as a means to prevent spacecraft from burning up during reentry while also ensuring the preservation of Earth’s orbital environment by mitigating space debris. An example of such technology is the Drag Augmentation Deorbiting System developed by Germany-based High Performance Space Structure Systems, which utilizes a large sail to increase drag and guide a satellite out of its orbit, causing it to burn up in the atmosphere.

By Impact Lab