Image Credits: Thinkstock
Many industries are looking for new ways to reuse or recycle materials, and space agencies are no exception. The European Space Agency (ESA) is one such organisation currently on the hunt for new ideas regarding recycling or converting materials into a variety of different, useful resources for other purposes.
This idea is something the ESA hopes to use more and more in future planetary probes or satellites as a source of fuel, water or other raw materials. The idea of reusing materials or components is often dubbed the `cradle to cradle’ approach.
Materials for Recyclable Satellites
One problem facing the ESA is the amount of junk material left over after the completion of a satellite mission. Using the cradle to cradle approach in design, the ESA aims to create reusable materials for satellites, which prevents the formation of orbital debris when a satellite mission ends. One day this could help future missions by providing a source of construction material, fuel or even food.
Based on this approach, there are potentially several means of converting or recycling satellite hardware for various missions. One method is to create satellites in the form of modules. After the completion of the mission, the modules get separated and rearranged to form another spacecraft, with the addition of new components as required.
A cradle to cradle approach has being explored by several manufacturing units over recent years, according to which all materials used in a product can be reused to form another product without compromising on quality or to be consumed as food without any waste residues.
Significance of Recyclable Satellites
According to ESA researchers, satellites manufactured based on cradle to cradle approach might become water, fuel or other raw materials. For instance, metal alloys could be ground down into powder and used for developing new hardware using methods like 3D printing. Organic materials could be heated, and the resulting gases could be used as fuel resources.
A now-derelict satellite. Image Credits: ESA
Alternatively, biodegradable materials could be harnessed in a life-support system such as MELiSSA, as biological nutrients to serve future manned missions.
Identifying a suitable energy source for the conversion process is one of the biggest challenges the ESA researchers are facing. Further research by ESA will focus on sustainable materials that would replace existing space-grade materials such as carbon-fiber epoxy resins, aluminum and titanium alloys, and analyzing the practicality of using biological nutrients for space missions in the future.