Technologies for safe future space satellites

Scientists of the Faculty of Civil Engineering at Riga Technical University (RTU) have been developing space satellite manufacturing technologies for the European Space Agency that will increase the safety of satellites and significantly lower production and operational costs for future missions.

The task of RTU scientists — to investigate the impact of visually hard detectable damage on the structures of space satellites and test the remaining load-carrying capacity of structures under the influence of damage. Based on the analysis of results obtained in the research, the researchers will develop guidelines for the European Space Agency for construction of new satellites. This is necessary because satellite production lasts for several years and during this time, «while each of the components «travels» through hands of many people and robots, a variety of dents and damages may be caused,» explains Kaspars Kalniņš, the Leading Researcher of RTU Institute of Materials and Structures.

In the space industry, seemingly minor errors can lead to multi-million losses. RTU research in the production process will enable to check the safety of a particular satellite design, and, if necessary, replace it in a timely manner without risking the progress of the mission or aircraft damage in open space.

Researchers at RTU laboratories obtain the necessary information for development of guidelines by using certified materials for developing satellite design prototypes. They are used for simulating the damage to the structures that occurs during transportation and assembly. In different tests, scientists examine how, depending on the type and the location of damage, load-carrying capacity of structure is changing. The test results are used in computer simulations, which allow predicting the behavior of a much larger number of combinations. After the data analysis, the guidelines necessary for the European Space Agency will be developed.

The research conducted by RTU scientists will contribute not only to the safety of space structures, but will also help reduce production costs because in the design of satellites and carrier rockets there is no clearly defined hard detectable damage assessment practice. Therefore, structures with inadequately high margin of safety and increased mass are built, which significantly increases the operating costs, as additional weight must be delivered into open space.