Nanosatellite to test solar sail

May 03, 2021 // By Nick Flaherty
Nanosatellite to test solar sail
NanoAvionics is building a 12U nanosatellite to test out a solar sail propulsion system in low earth orbit

Lithuanian nanosatellite specialist NanoAvionics is to build a 12U bus system to demonstrate a solar sail system in orbit.

The Advanced Composite Solar Sail System (ACS3) measures approximately 800 square foot (74 square meter) with a composite boom and solar sail.  

The aim of the ACS3 mission is to replace conventional rocket propellants by developing and testing solar sails using sunlight beams to thrust the nanosatellite. These solar sail propulsion systems are designed for future small interplanetary spacecrafts destined for low-cost deep-space and science missions requiring long-duration, low-thrust propulsion. NASA Ames Research Centre has contracted AST, the majority owner of NanoAvionics, for the 12U bus to carry the payload into low Earth orbit (LEO). 

As part of the deal NanoAvionics will also supply a mechanical testbed model and a FlatSat model. In addition, a team of NanoAvionics engineers will provide the support required for testing, integration and operations of the nanosatellite.  

The FlaSat model has identical software functionality as the final 12U bus hardware, hosting the actual payload. It allows NASA Ames to run tests via remote network connectivity without having to ship equipment back and forth. The mechanical testbed model can be used for testing payload integration and other mechanical tests, such as the deployment of solar sails.  

The nanosatellite bus use multiple standard-sized units of 10x10x10cm. The size of the resulting spacecraft is measured by the number of units, e.g. 3U, 6U or 12U. The bus is the infrastructure of the spacecraft including components such as propulsion and communications systems.

NanoAvionics will assemble the 12U bus at its new Columbia facility in Illinois, while the final integration of the payload will be carried out at NASA Ames facilities. The 12U bus shares the same flight-proven subsystems as NanoAvionics’ flagship M6P bus but with up to 10U payload volume. The larger volume will be necessary to provide enough room for the 4.6kg payload that includes the composite boom and solar sail system as well as cameras to monitor the solar sail during and after deployment. 

“NanoAvionics will be part of NASA’s effort to validate a new beam-powered propulsion system, eventually leading to more marvellous deep-space missions following the first inter-planetary CubeSats MarCO-A and B (Mars Cube One),” said Brent Abbott, CEO of NanoAvionics North America. “The technology demonstration using NanoAvionics’ 12U bus will be the first ever in-orbit trial of NASA’s composite booms as well as sail packing and deployment systems for a solar sail. It will guide the development of a next generation nanosatellites with solar sail propulsion system for small inter-planetary spacecraft.” 

The benefit of nanosatellites with solar sails is a continuous thrust without using expending propellants, enabling orbits that are not possible with conventional propulsion systems. Mission for these spacecrafts include comet rendezvous, solar system and interstellar scouts, polar orbits around the sun and planets, and asteroid mining. However, until the arrival of dedicated launchers for smallsats likely deep-space missions for nanosatellites are piggy-back rides where the main spacecraft would carry one or more nanosatellite like a Russian doll and fulfill their mission or a stand-alone system executing its own mission.  

AST acquired a controlling interest in NanoAvionics in 2018 as part of its strategy to establish manufacturing capabilities in Europe and North America. Abel Avellan, CEO and chairman of AST serves as chairman of NanoAvionics’ Board of Directors. The company has sites in Columbia (US), Midland (US), Vilnius (Lithuania), and Oxfordshire (UK). Its multi-purpose M6P and M12P are the first preconfigured nanosatellite buses in the sector, designed to serve emerging commercial space markets.

www.nanoavionics.com

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