Space environment offers unique opportunity for demonstration or validation of advanced materials, life support and habitation systems, science instruments, propulsion and power systems, thermal management systems, communication, navigation and remote sensing technologies, computing, electronics, robotics, tele-robotics, in space manufacturing, satellite servicing and many other technological areas.
There are multiple reasons for in-orbit testing and validation of technologies, processes and systems in relevant space/microgravity environment, starting with raising and accelerating Technology Readiness Level (TRL), in support of proof-of-concepts of operations, training, crew interfaces, logistics, to obtain operational knowledge in a relevant environment, as well as de-risking certain activities and enabling in-space engineering research.
The impact of the harsh environment of space is difficult to mimic on ground and must be taken into account when developing for space, requiring an in-depth understanding of how materials and structures behave in the environment where they are meant to perform.
Technology demonstrations and validations in space can be focused on aspects of spacecraft design, such as thermal control and thermal management systems, power and energy systems or in-space propulsion. A significant portion of activities is also focused on areas such as robotics, tele-robotics, computing and autonomous systems that play a more important role in space activities than ever before, and will continue to do so in the future, in terms of both manned and unmanned missions. Namely robotics is an area which benefits from having the ability to demonstrate and validate technology directly in space, as there is no means of replicating the exact dynamic behavior of a space robotic system on Earth. Robotics, tele-robotics, autonomous systems: dynamic response of the system that cannot be replicated on Earth, performance and ops concepts of (tele-)robotic systems, upstream activities concerns, possible spin-offs.
With the advancements of 3D printing and additive manufacturing in recent years on Earth, significant developments have been made also towards in-space manufacturing (encompassing on-demand fabrication, repair, and recycling) and it could also be well utilized for future In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) activities. Strongly connected to these applications, extending the life of spacecrafts involves novel capabilities for refueling, repair, and revival satellites, but also to improve, replace or augment existing assets in space. For all those aspects, technologies and (sub-)systems can be tested and validated on the testbed the International Space Station is.
When talking about technology demonstrations and validations in space, we cannot omit various science instruments that are crucial elements of almost all space activities, as these allow us to expand our knowledge and maximize the space environment for our benefit.
Platforms as ICE Cubes offering long-duration exposure to the space environment are an ideal tool for demonstration or validation of novel technologies and materials that could improve current state-of-the-art. Utilising the International Space Station for such activities also allows for return of experiments and thus for potential re-calibration and inspection, which can support acceleration of the design improvements and reducing time to commercialization in case of technologies with commercial character.
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