Innovative Technologies for Satellites Braunschweig and Würzburg work on small satellite INNOcube
It requires no cabling and its supporting structure doubles as a battery: research teams from Braunschweig and Würzburg are working on such a refined small satellite. Testing of the small satellite in orbit is planned for 2023.
Some satellites are only slightly larger than a milk carton. This type of construction is now to be given a further simplified architecture, making it even lighter and cheaper: This goal is being pursued by the teams of Professors Enrico Stoll from the Technische Universität Braunschweig and Sergio Montenegro from the Universität Würzburg. Their joint project INNOcube is funded by the German Aerospace Center (DLR) – Space Administration with funds from the Federal Ministry of Economics and Energy.
Many students will also be working on INNOcube, for example in the form of internships and bachelor and master theses. Two highly innovative technologies are at the heart of satellite construction: Skith and Wall#E.
Battery made of special fibre structure
Wall#E was developed in Braunschweig at the Institute of Space Systems. It is a special fiber composite structure that can store electrical energy and at the same time can be used as the supporting structure of the satellite. “This type of battery allows a significant reduction in the mass and volume of a satellite while maintaining the same performance,” says Professor Stoll. Wall#E stands for “Fiber Reinforced Spacecraft Walls for Energy Storage”.
Radio modules for wireless control
The wireless satellite infrastructure Skith (Skip the harness) originates from Würzburg. It makes the internal cabling of the satellite components superfluous by enabling data transmission with ultra-broadband radio. “The low signal strength of the radio modules ensures that the highly sensitive instruments on board the satellite are not disturbed,” explains Professor Montenegro. Skith also ensures that the satellite’s mass, complexity and integration effort are reduced. For example, individual satellite components can easily be replaced even shortly before the rocket launch.
Orbit test planned for 2023
The small satellite INNOcube, in which Skith and Wall#E are integrated for the first time, is expected to be launched into orbit via rocket at the end of 2023. Extensive testing and evaluation of the satellite will take approximately one year. The satellite will orbit the earth at an altitude of 350 to 600 kilometers. It weighs about four kilograms and measures 34 × 10 × 10 centimeters.
The findings from the orbital tests will be incorporated into both terrestrial and space-related technologies. It is conceivable, for example, that the combination of Skith and Wall#E will enable the construction of aircraft with fewer cables and energy-storing outer walls. This would save weight and could possibly open the door to electric flying.
Award-winning technologies in action
The Wall#E and Skith technologies have emerged as winners of the DLR INNOspace Masters innovation competitions in 2016 and 2017 respectively. Their development was supported in separate projects by DLR’s Space Agency with funding from the German Federal Ministry of Economics.