Space is probably one of the most fascinating things in the universe and something that humans have been intrigued by for years. The sector contributes a great deal to our understanding of our planet and the existence of our environment – while equally leaving a huge ecological footprint with its own activity. For a couple of years now, spacecraft manufacturers have turned their attention towards tackling their sustainable practices and environmental impact with the goal of increasing safety and minimizing emissions to combat actions like making and transporting few of a kind or one-of-a-kind products.
But before we can send anything to space, we need to design, fabricate, and construct the spacecraft, launch vehicles, and required equipment. We need to build the rockets, assemble or install the components, equip the spacecraft, and prepare for launch. Often, the proposed parts are fabricated using novel materials with little shared or pre-existing body of expertise, employ processes not previously used, and developing methods to assemble or service multi-million (or even billion) dollar assets. The ability to assess the final spacecraft is key and requires the highest level of accuracy in design and build. However, to reduce carbon footprint, manufacturers must emancipate themselves from physical tests and prototypes without scarifying safety and quality. This is where Virtual Prototyping comes into play, allowing engineers to virtually assess the full picture of the final product, in real life, by experimenting with real data and real physics at the same time.
In this blog, we will examine how engineers use Virtual Prototyping to solve these manufacturing challenges in realizing the production of spacefaring vessels that will carry us beyond the limitations of the Earth – with a zero physical prototype and test strategy.
Simply put, the people designing and making spaceships don’t have access to the vast array of examples as those, say, in the automotive industry. As a matter of fact, in over six decades, only a handful of designs have carried astronauts to space! Pretty unbelievable when you think about it compared to other industries which have hundreds of thousands of examples to learn from. Spacecraft are a finite set of products, which results in a natural lack of collected experience for this group. Naturally, this limited bank of experience makes it even more difficult to improve designs and processes.
Spaceships must be designed and built with the utmost safety in mind; they need to be solid and secure for those taking the trip. But they also need to be light so that they can fight against the gravitational pull of Earth with the least amount of fuel, which is heavy itself. These highly specialized products require prohibitively expensive materials making building physical prototypes even more of a financial burden. Without the ability to build physical prototypes, engineers simply are limited in gaining the practical experience they need to make the best design decisions possible.
In addition to the materials being ridiculously expensive, they are also highly specialized for the space industry, with many not even being used for commercial aviation. This creates another roadblock as engineers are again working with materials for the first time without any background information to help them make informed decisions. It’s new territory every time something needs to be decided, which can become very expensive and very dangerous quickly.
Speaking of things becoming dangerous quickly, with the highly intricate designs and engineering complexity of spacecraft, every decision becomes a matter of life & death. So how can designers be sure that these crafts will be safe for those traveling in them? Currently, the only way to do that would be to have real people interact with the product. However, there is a clear danger in the idea of using real people around real things to test and evaluate if the real work is too dangerous to expect people to perform. It is not practical to intentionally put people in harm’s way to test product designs to realize if they are safe for people to fly in or not.
At ESI Group, we are dedicated to helping you tackle your biggest manufacturing roadblocks through our specialized aerospace solutions. One way we love to share this information with you is through our webinar series, like the one dedicated to the topics in this blog: Space Webinars 2021, which you can watch right now ON DEMAND! In this series, a few of our key aerospace customers, like Luxfer Superform and Pryer Aerospace, shared their own experiences with us on how they were able to finally answer their biggest challenges related to materials, safety, design and more.
We look forward to continuing this journey with you!
For more information watch our Space Series Webinar 1: Aerospace Stamping and Metal Forming issues and how suppliers are succeeding