A UK start-up has developed deployable spacecraft structures by basing their designs on the Japanese art of Origami.
Oxford Space Systems worked with Professor Zhong You of Oxford University to develop structural designs that use ‘shape memory’ to unfurl in a specific way. Using chain structures fabricated from fibres and resins the structures behave in the same way as leaves.
This means satellite payloads take up significantly less space, are far lighter and simpler to deploy.
OSS’ focus is simplicity in areas where faults mean mission failure. Deployable panels, large deployable antennas (LDAs) and flexible boom systems are the primary areas of development. All three require complex structures and multiple motors to work which increases the chance of jamming and fault.
OSS’ approach means fewer motorised parts saving on space and weight which allows for redundancies. Using composites over traditional materials makes them less prone to distortion so snagging and jamming isn’t a concern in products like their Astrotube retractable boom. However OSS has gone to the trouble of rifling the sections which not only make extension smoother but rotation achievable without a heavy and costly rotary actuator mechanism.
The OSS Astrotube - Image Courtesy of Oxford Space Systems
The underlying thought behind all of OSS’ design is how the materials behave. The company’s parabolic antenna has only a single motor and significantly less structure. However the nature of the composites and the use of a patented linear sliding bearing allow the structure to recover if there is any jamming or distortion. Essentially the entire structure is its own redundancy.
OSS has gained the backing of Innovate UK, the UK Space Agency, the European Space Agency and the Satellite Applications Catapult (which isn’t quite what you imagine it to be) and were the winners of the Harwell Launchpad competition. They are also finalists in the Oxford Brookes University Innovation Award: the winner is due to be announced on the 19th June.
In March, Oxford Space Systems was selected by the UK Space Agency to fly its AstroTube Boom on a 3U cubesat mission, set to launch in Q2, 2016.
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