We speak with Arno van Mourik, CEO of Airborne, about his automation concept for satellite panels and how it will support Newspace.
Please give a short overview of Airborne's aims.
The growth of the composites industry is currently being limited by the high costs of manufacture. After decades of technology development in highend fields, where the mechanical advantages of composites outweigh the high costs, Airborne is confident that the industry is ready to mature and industrialize. Airborne has developed a unique lowcapex and flexible concept for composites automation and is now developing the technology necessary to go to market. Airborne is on a mission to make composites affordable.
How long have you been CEO of Airborne? What do you consider your greatest achievement/s within that time?
I founded Airborne together with Marco Brinkman in 1995. Our greatest achievement at Airborne was the successful development of industrialised manufacturing lines for thermoplastic composite pipe, which has now grown to be a highly successful standalone business; Airborne Oil & Gas. Because of this experience with automating composites manufacture at an industrial scale, we are confident that we have the right capabilities in house to industrialise a wider range of composites manufacturing processes by automation, with the ultimate goal to make composites affordable for the Aerospace market as well as other markets.
What’s the most important project you’re working on right now, and how are you making it happen?
We are in the race to win an order for manufacturing the panels for a mega constellation
What is the development background behind the automation concept for satellite panels?
Our composites automation concept was in full development when we were invited to make a proposal for affordable satellite panels on an industrial scale for a Newspace project. We realised that in order to meet the demands of the customer, we had to drastically rethink the product design, materials and manufacturing process in order to be able to offer the products at the required output speed, quality and price. We looked at innovative manufacturing processes being developed which may remove current bottlenecks from the manufacturing process, such as autoclave curing and quality inspections. As a result of this study we have a clear vision on automated panel manufacture which will enable us to meet the needs of our customer and help make Newspace a reality.
How will it support Newspace?
It will industrialise the manufacture of satellite structures by automation, thereby making the mega constellations affordable and meeting output demands.
How have you seen the space industry change within your time working at Airbourne?What future trends and changes do you anticipate for the Space Industry?
The most drastic changes are caused by the commercialisation of space initiatives, where big commercial organisations such as SpaceX, Google and OneWeb are forcing the industry to rethink their values; Are the extremely high quality demands on space products really worth the price? Is it OK to accept that launchers, which cost our societies mountains of money, should be disposed after being used only once? In the same way that Newspace is now benefitting from the decades of technology development by government run organisations, our society will now benefit from the cost reductions that accompany commercialisation.
For the space industry, this means that we have to adapt to these changes. Some may think that they can continue to deliver their highly priced products to their traditional space customers and that nothing will change for them. But their customers will also see the attractive prices of the competitor and if they are too late to anticipate, I foresee that you will struggle to stay in business. The good news is that Airborne Composites Automation can assist with automating the manufacture of your satellite structures to enhance or regain your competitive position.
Which products do you plan to showcase at Space Tech Expo EU 2017?
We aim to display an affordable satellite panel manufactured by our automated production line.