Composites - in satellites and launch vehicles
From its production locations in Morgan Hill and Fairfield CA in the United States, TenCate supplies a wide range of composite materials for communication, military and research satellites, as well as for launch vehicles.
Satellites utilize high modulus (high stiffness) carbon fibres combined with tailored resin systems for the production of structures on the satellite, including solar arrays, booms/trusses, reflectors and bus structures. Solar arrays are used to provide power to the satellite while it is in space; booms/trusses hold equipment and solar arrays to the main structure of the satellite; and reflectors are the communication disks that are used to upload and download satellite communications that enable data transmission with mobile phones, internet, HD television, military communications and analytical instruments.
In 2010 a heat-resistant composite resin was developed by TenCate and provided for the heat shield (with a 5-metre diameter) and the backshell structure of NASA’s Orion crew vehicle. Lockheed Martin Space Systems Orion thermal protection group worked closely with TenCate Advanced Composites in North America on the five-year development and qualification effort for a range of materials used in this extreme application. This Lockheed Martin spacecraft was successfully launched as a trial at the end of 2014.
Communication satellites enable internet, television and mobile phone communications. The need and the desire for mobile phones, digital television and internet connectivity are all driving the demand for communication satellites. Military satellites provide earth observation, secure communication, GPS location/navigation, early warning and weather information. A new trend that has begun is the development of microsatellites, which are to be deployed in large numbers to allow internet access in far regions. Research satellites serve a variety of specialized purposes. For example, they may be used to measure atmospheric changes, weather and climate change.
On 31 January of this year NASA launched its Soil Moisture Active Passive satellite. TenCate Advanced Composites provided Astro Aerospace with TenCate Cetex® thermoplastic composites for the AstroMesh® reflector on this spacecraft (picture).
The SMAP spacecraft will provide global measurements of soil moistures and indicate whether it is frozen or thawed. The data will be used to understand the processes that link Earth’s water, energy and carbon cycles and improve weather and climate prediction models. The six-metre-long AstroMesh® reflector, which will spin atop the spacecraft at nearly 15 revolutions per minute, provides for total global mapping every two to three days. The reflector uses TenCate Cetex® thermoplastic composites to achieve the strength, durability and weight savings needed. ‘TenCate Cetex® thermoplastics are integral to the structure of our mesh reflectors’, states Daniel Ochoa, product development manager at Northrop Grumman’s Astro Aerospace. ‘They help to create the parabolic shape of the antenna. The material has been extensively tested as part of the unit prior to flight, and is durable and stiff, which is critical to the functioning of the antenna.’ Launch vehicles are now being developed that are either reusable or very low cost and satellite manufacturers are shifting to more rapidly deployable architectures