From mapping to navigation, research and even communication, many of our ‘everyday’ applications and tasks are driven by space technology. Through such space programmes as Copernicus, Galileo and EGNOS, Europe has positioned itself as an independent, global leader in satellite technology. But, with space-based applications becoming increasingly complex, this position is now under threat. “Every satellite mission depends on unique – often critical – technologies, many of which are produced by only a handful of suppliers,” says Pedro Teixeira, a researcher at Frezite High Performance (FHP), a company that builds aerospace and terrestrial applications. “If these technologies can’t be sourced within Europe, there is a very real risk that our space programmes will lose some of their sovereignty.” One such technology is the large deployable reflector subsystem (LDRS), which consists of a deployable boom and deployable reflector. The ever-increasing demand for information gathered by satellites requires larger on-board antenna reflectors. The problem is that the available storage volume on top of rocket launcher systems is limited and constrains the dimensions of fixed antennas. However, according to Teixeira, the LDRS concept provides a solution to this problem. “During the launch of the satellite, the reflector and the accompanying arm are folded and packed to a smaller volume,” explains Teixeira. “After the satellite is in orbit, the LDRS arm and reflector unfold, allowing for larger antennae with diameters ranging up to 20 metres.” With the support of the EU-funded LEA project, Teixeira helped lead a consortium of 21 companies, many of which were SMEs, from seven European countries. Their goal: to develop, manufacture and test a large deployable antenna subsystem.
A high-performing subsystem
The project succeeded at developing and manufacturing Europe’s first LDRS. The high-performing subsystem, which includes a deployable arm, reflector, electronics, hinges and harness, was also tested and fully validated at various levels. “This project proves that by combining our expertise and competencies, Europe’s SMEs can achieve initiatives that may be ‘too big’ to tackle on their own,” notes Teixeira. “As a result, the consortium is now well-positioned to offer a credible, EU-made alternative in a market currently dominated by US suppliers.” The LDRS has already been selected for use with the Copernicus CIMR Mission. Having been chosen over American suppliers, the solution will provide valuable data for environmental monitoring conducted within the context of climate change.
Laying the foundation for a competitive LDRS sector
According to Teixeira, the LEA project not only ensures that Europe will be able to maintain the sovereignty of its space programmes, it also lays the foundation for a competitive LDRS sector. “The market needs for deployable antenna reflectors like the one developed by this project will continue to increase, with the Earth observation, communication and security sectors being the main drivers for the next 20 years,” he adds. To meet this demand, the LEA-developed LDRS is based on a scalable architecture, which enables the development of a family of European deployable reflectors with associated arms ranging in size from 3 metres to 20 metres. “This range will satisfy the demand for a large portion of the estimated space missions of the immediate future,” concludes Teixeira.
LEA, large deployable reflector subsystem, LDRS, satellite mission, space technology, Copernicus, Galileo, EGNOS, satellite technology, space programmes