While visiting the Space Tech Expo in May in Pasadena, CA, I came across a group of companies displaying their technical achievements and solutions for Small Satellites known as CubeSats. Here are some of the key technologies that make these systems function properly in the harsh environment of space exploration,
DHV Technology manufactures solar panels for PocketQube small satellites and 1U and 3U CubeSats in space. (Image courtesy of Loretta Taranovich)
1U and 3U CubeSat solar panels
1U CubeSats have 10cm x 10cm and 3U CubeSats are 300cm x 80cm. These are both high temperature resistant polyimide substrates with a Kapton cover-lay. They are Pumpkin and ISIS compatible and have integrated sensors for temperature, solar and magnetic fields. These panels also have Atomic Oxygen (ATOX) protection (See Corrosion in Space)
PocketQube solar panels
PocketQube solar panels are just 5cm x 5cm, the smallest generation of solar panels. Substrates are made of polyimide or FR4 high/low temperature resistant solar panels and have ATOX protection.
3U CubeSats with antenna, transceiver, and Ion propulsion
A 3U CubeSat with Printech antenna array, Arralis transceiver, and Enpulsion Ion propulsion engine (Image courtesy of Loretta Taranovich)
Printech Circuit Laboratories (PCL)1
PCL is developing microstrip patch antennas on composite printed circuit boards for high structural strength with low mass.
Microstrip patch antennas are typically used in space applications. They are usually fabricated on fiberglass-reinforced resin (FR) or polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE)-based laminates using a standard printed circuit board (PCB) process.
A PCL patch antenna on PTFE laminate board (Image courtesy of Printech Circuit Laboratories)
At Space Tech Expo in May 2018, Arralis announced their new high-frequency analog phase-shifter MMIC product line. These devices will enable greater than 360 degrees of analog phase variation with low insertion loss while covering two satellite Ka bands: 17-21GHz and 25.5-32,5GHz. This solution will be able to track fast-moving Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites since it is an analog phase-shifter which means continuous phase variation. This is a marked advantage over conventional digital phase shifters. It is interesting that the extended frequency range of the upper band chip used is also suitable for the coming 5G band and can be instrumental in beam-steering base stations. These ICs are also available with an integrated power amplifier.
An Arralis Ka band Phased Array Antenna Aerodynamic Aircraft Housing (Image courtesy of Loretta Taranovich)
Arralis has a neat Ka-band chipset called Leonis which is a plug-and-play set of devices with all of the necessary circuits to build a K-band satellite and ground front-end.
The Arralis Booth at 2018 Space Tech Expo with Mike Greaves, CTO (Image courtesy of Loretta Taranovich)
Field-emission electric propulsion (FEEP) is an advanced electrostatic propulsion system for space. This is an ion thruster which uses liquid metal, Indium molten in a reservoir in this case, as its propellant. The thrust can be controlled through the electrode voltages, providing excellent controllability over the full thrust range and a low thrust noise. (Image courtesy of Loretta Taranovich)
Since the IFM Nano Thruster expels an ion current of up to 3 mA, the module needs a method to prevent spacecraft charging. Designers have achieved that by the using two cold-redundant electron sources acting as neutralizers. Such an electron source consists of a thermionic cathode type, heated up to 1,800 K and biased to -200 V. Once electrons have left the neutralizer, they will be pulled towards the positive potential of the ion plume. The Power Processing Unit (PPU) is able to measure and control this charge balancing electron current.
Using an efficient ionization process allows one to ionize up to 60% of the evaporated Indium atoms, the IFM Nano Thruster can provide a higher specific impulse than any other ion propulsion system currently out there. Using a cluster of IFM Nano Thruster modules for small satellites provides a significant thrust vectoring capability. (Image courtesy of Loretta Taranovich)
NASA has recently tested the CubeSat Radiometer Radio Frequency Interference Technology (CubeRRT) project using a new way for future radiometer missions to overcome the large amount of Radio Frequency Interference (RFI) which satellites encounter while collecting data. See the following video.