Smart engineering is completely reshaping the space industry. In this 10th issue of DirectIndustry e-magazine, we explore how equipment is becoming affordable and reusable, and how space could turn into the place to be for manufacturers.
Our journalists take you to the International Space Station for 3D printing 100% “Made in Space.” Then, preparetoboard a reusable rocket that zooms out of this world. Theglobal race for cheaper tech is on—the conquest of space awakens.
A calendar coincidence, this Space Special is being released on same day as the world premiere of Star Wars 7: The Force Awakens. We couldn’t resist dropping in a few small nods to most famous of outer space adventures. A movie that even the ISS crew is taking with them into space!
May the Force be with them….and the E-mag with you….
On the 23rd of September 2014, a Made In Space Zero G 3D printer built for NASA was delivered to the International Space Station (ISS) by a SpaceX Dragon cargo ship. By November, astronaut Barry “Butch” Wilmore had set up the melt-deposition modeling 3D printer and began printing a series of calibration coupons and...
Exploring space is an expensive business, with each astronaut’s trip to the International Space Station (ISS) costing €65 million. NASA’s last Mars Exploration Rover Mission has racked up a staggering €2.3 billion so far. However, some cutting-edge innovative technologies could make space travel much more affordable.
Here Comes the Sun
One of the technologies developed for NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) project—and all future deep-space missions—is Solar Electric Propulsion (SEP). Much more efficient and cost-effective than traditional chemical propulsion and combustion, SEP uses electricity from solar panels to create electromagnetic fields that accelerate and expel charged atoms to create a very low thrust. SEP needs just a tenth of the chemical propellants traditionally used by the space industry. NASA has two versions of radiation-proof fold-out or “flexible blanket” solar panels to harvest the energy, and will test them in low-Earth orbit by 2020.
(Solar propulsion, Courtesy of NASA)
NASA has also trialed solar sails, though it’s the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)—whose IKAROS sailed to Venus in 2010—that has developed two of its own technologies for more efficient solar panels designed for those sails. A spokesperson at JAXA told DirectIndustry e-magazine more about this technology:
Our thin film solar array sheet uses lightweight and high-efficient inverted metamorphic triple junction solar cells, while our curved solar panel is formed to be a curved surface for improving outside stiffness of an array sheet. These technologies open the way for realizing more efficient solar panels that can be used with an electric propulsion engine for a geostationary satellite.
That’s crucial because liquid propellant occupies almost half of the total mass of a geostationary satellite; the end result is either more mission instruments or a reduced mass, and so it is a less expensive propellant.
Ice Cube Satellites
For deep space it’s all about fuel efficiency, but in near-Earth orbit the longevity of the fuel is also important. The tiny amount of thrust needed by small CubeSats to keep them in orbit and correctly oriented has prompted engineers at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands to create an ice-propelled rocket. As the ice sublimates and releases vapor molecules, they bounce off a hot plate and escape, causing just enough propulsion. The genius is that the propellant—the ice—stays solid, so it’s completely safe (unlike chemical thrusters) as well as long-lasting.
(Ice propulsion CubeSatIce – Courtesy of University of Michigan)
Another innovative way to move a small satellite comes from Arx Pax in California, whose Magnetic Field Architecture technology can repel and attract satellites simultaneously for easy manipulation and capture. Meanwhile, Lockheed Martin’s lightweight Microcryocooler can keep sensors at cryogenic temperatures (as low as -320º F), which could be crucial for high-resolution infrared sensors in satellites.
Laser From Outer Space
While satellites are using smaller components and producing more data, radio frequency bandwidth has hit a ceiling, which threatens to hamper progress. OPALS (Optical Payload for Lasercomm Science) is an optical communications technology that uses the theory that laser beams are significantly narrower—so offer much more power—than radio-frequency beams. NASA has already successfully beamed data at 50 Mbps (RF manages around 2 Mbps) from the ISS to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Like everything else created for deep space exploration, it could also have dramatic effects down here on Earth.
Reusing Space Equipment?
(Falcon reusable rocket, Courtesy of SpaceX)
Reusing space equipment and materials is one of the latest ideas. The Dragon capsule that SpaceX regularly launches to the ISS is covered in Phenolic Impregnated Carbon Ablator (PICA). This material, which is used for thermal protection during the return journey, can be reused about 12 times. PICA-X was initially built by NASA but the SpaceX version is far cheaper, with large but lightweight pieces about 8cm thick, which are then cut into tiles and positioned on a carbon-composite mold.
As its NASA counterpart, it can withstand 1927º C, which is crucial because deep space missions to Mars hit the atmosphere at speeds of almost 47,000 km/h, so experience extreme temperatures of entry.
Reusable rockets could also slash the cost of space travel by 99%. When a rocket launches, it burns the fuel from its first stages, which then detach and fall back to Earth as debris. Since these constitute most of the cost of space travel, SpaceX and Blue Origin want to reuse them. In six successful resupply launches to the ISS, SpaceX has attempted to land its two-stage Falcon 9 reusable rocket three times, each one just failing to touch down on a drone ship. Blue Origin recently succeeded with its second attempt while launching its New Shepard suborbital spacecraft, albeit a low altitude test that shouldn’t be compared to SpaceX’s efforts. Reusable rockets are vitally important for the entire industry; it could cut the cost of space travel by 99%. For science and industry, the space race is more than back on.
In a remote part of northeast Brazil, where humans once toiled on plantations, machines now make machines. At Goiana, in the state of Pernambuco, on what were once fields of sugarcane, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) has built one of the most advanced car manufacturing plants in the world. Officially opened in April...
Over 2,000 satellites handle TV, imaging, weather, Earth observations, GPS and navigational data for ships, vehicles and phones. But at €50 million per launch, satellites are beyond the reach of most. All that changes with CubeSats, miniaturized modular open-source satellites that measure 10x10x10 cm and weigh no more than 1.33 kg. Costing around €45,000 to build, they can be launched for under €100,000.
The Low-Tech Satellite Era
Originally created to help university scientists conduct space experiments and research quickly and cheaply, CubeSats have vast potential for short-term commercial trials.
Their framework is made from 5052-H32 sheet aluminum, while components are machined from 6061-T6 aluminum, with power coming from small solar cells and rechargeable batteries.
(The FIREBIRD-II CubeSat – Courtesy of Montana State University, University of New Hampshire)
Build Your Own Satellite
So cheap and popular are CubeSats, that building and launching them is becoming a new global industry, with privately-funded “ride share” rocket launches regularly taking dozens at a time into orbit. Companies including Planet Labs, Mars Space, Clyde Space, Surrey Satellite Technology and Spire are all in the CubeSat business. Other sites (www.diyspaceexploration.com and www.cubesatkit.com) offer the possibility of making your own satellite, with science-based missions launched en masse by NASA. The Cubesat Launch Initiative takes these tiny satellites to the International Space Station (ISS) on NASA’s regular cargo resupply flights. Since CubeSats orbit Earth less than 2,000 km up, gravity forces them to re-enter and burn up in the atmosphere after a short time—sometimes just weeks or months.
Internet For All From Outer Space
The ISS’s robotic arm has been releasing CubeSats for the last few years. One launched in October 2015 will demonstrate laser data transfer at rates of up to 200 Mbs, 100 times faster than current CubeSat speeds. That technology could find its way into the plans of Outernet,OneWeb and SpaceX. All three companies want to launch a vast constellation—perhaps as many as 4,000—of very low-flying CubeSats to test a high-speed satellite Internet service for areas of Earth without web access. Each CubeSat will continuously broadcast data via standard radio signals to any satellite TV dish and hand-held receivers (such as Lantern). Hundreds of CubeSats 2,000 km up collectively deliver the same service provided by an expensive telecoms satellite 35,000 km high. Craig Clark, CEO of Glasgow-based Clyde Space, the company that will construct CubeSats for Outernet, says:
It’s a great example of how a spacecraft that is small enough to hold in your hand can provide what I believe will become a vital global service. That’s not to say the technical challenges of making a satellite this small are insignificant, but our team of spacecraft engineers and technicians are relishing the prospect of producing these spacecraft.
Clyde Space will need to create CubeSats with near-continuous data broadcasting, more accurate orientation to specific Earth targets and longer orbital life than current models. However, the end result—Internet for all—is the greatest of prizes.
SIKO GmbHreceived the i-NOVO Tech Award 2015 at SPS IPC Drives in Nuremberg for its SGH10, a system for direct stroke measurement in hydraulic cylinders. It will be used in the mobile machinery market (agricultural machinery, construction equipment and municipal vehicles).
Direct Industry e-magazine met with Mathias Roth, Branch Manager of Mobile Automation at SIKO GmbH.
DirectIndustry e-magazine:What does SGH10 stand for?
Mathias Roth: It is the abbreviation for the German term for hydraulic Bowden cable. The number 10 indicates the maximum stroke length, which is 1.0 meter. It is used for precisely determining the stroke of a cylinder to enable measurement and monitoring of the required movement.
DirectIndustry e-magazine:What makes the SGH10 unique on the market?
Mathias Roth: It is the world’s first cylinder stroke measuring system usingBowden cable sensor technology installed directly inside the cylinder. Previous systems were attached to the outside of the cylinder. This exposes them to environmental hazards like water, dust or ice. Three years ago we started thinking about the development of an innovative system using the built-in protection of a robust hydraulic cylinder. By putting the measuring technology inside the hydraulic cylinder, it is perfectly protected against exterior conditions.
DirectIndustry e-magazine:How exactly does it work?
Mathias Roth: As opposed to magnetostrictive technology, a Bowden cable mechanism measures the stroke directly inside the cylinder. It even can be used in a telescope cylinder. The cable is mounted in the piston head. If the cylinder is extended, the cable, wound on a drum, is pulled out. The rotation of the cable drum is detected without contact by the sensor electronics and used to calculate the linear travel. This makes it possible to detect the position of the cylinder.
DirectIndustry e-magazine:What further advantages does the SGH 10 offer?
Mathias Roth: The biggest advantage is that modifications such as drilling holes into the cylinder are significantly reduced. In previous measuring systems, the sensor rods had to be integrated into the piston over the whole measurement path. The SGH10, however, requires only a small hole. This lowers the cost of integration and does not weaken piston structure as much.
The WEBfactory i4 is a software platform designed by WEBfactory GmbH, a specialist for automation software and web technology. The platform allows companies to manage their individual Industry 4.0 approaches by mapping machines and production plants virtually, online and on different mobile devices.
Five modules enable real-time administration: i4SCADA, i4Monitoring, i4Maintenance, i4Energy and i4Analytics. They can be purchased individually or as a package. The system gathers and stores data of the whole company thanks to data warehouse technology. i4SCADA visualizes sites and machinery, whereas i4Monitoring constantly surveils and evaluates key indicators to verify that all machines are running properly. I4Analytics evaluates and analyzes the measured indicators to ensure anticipations and prognosis. The ISO-certified i4Energy module is the application, which unites the energy management of the whole factory on one screen. And finally i4Maintenance calculates when the next check of the system is due.
Camille Rustici is a Video Journalist and the Editor-in-Chief for DirectIndustry e-magazine. She has years of experience in business issues for various media including France 24, Associated Press, Radio France…