The NewSpace industry is growing rapidly — with new technologies and innovations changing the space-scape as we know it. Previously an industry almost completely headed up by government and space exploration entities, with the aim to discover and monitor the unknown, the next space age — NewSpace — builds on the knowledge and key findings from the Old Space era, and seeks to capitalize, economize and privatize the sector.
Activities being undertaken in the new space era are not limited to the space tourism which is often presented in the media today. Private entities and government groups are constantly investing, developing and deploying new projects into the atmosphere including asteroid mining, satellites for internet and high-class orbital imaging, as well as commercial space stations and further innovations in colonization and research. And, there is no sign of this slowing down, with the space sector set to be worth $2.7 trillion over the next 30 years1.
The UK alone produces around 44 percent of the world’s small satellites, as well as maintains the facilities to operate and manage the satellites once deployed2. The United Kingdom Space Agency (UKSA) also recently partnered up with a number of U.S. organizations to set in motion the first launching of commercial rockets from the island. Virgin Orbit, the latest space endeavor from Richard Branson and successor to Virgin Galactic, has also secured permission from the UKSA to launch rockets from Newquay Airport in Cornwall from 20213.
There is much competition in the commercial spaceflight industry, with the major players of Virgin, SpaceX and Blue Origin all head-to-head in the race to space. Elon Musk’s venture, SpaceX, recently announced the company will be ready to send a crewed mission to the International Space Station in April of 20194.
Also on the agenda is the introduction of reusable flight vehicles that are intended to withstand the harsh atmosphere of space for multiple journeys through the atmosphere. Still in the concept phase, Stratolaunch’s Space Plane is completely reusable, initially developed to ferry cargo, but with the potential to accommodate space tourism in the future5. However, behind the headlines, big names and bright lights, there is technology that is making all of these innovations possible.
Challenges to Overcome
Due to the demanding nature of the space environment, the technology in the background must offer the greatest level in flexibility and ruggedization, as well as meet the many criteria and standards in place set by industry bodies — RF microwave technology can rise to these challenges and more.
There are increasing trends in the RF manufacturing world to develop flexible, reconfigurable systems that operate seamlessly from launch to orbit. Greater capacity and bandwidth are only a few of the networking demands that NewSpace applications encounters which further the need for a robust, reliable connection.
Just as the latest onboard satellite systems require the latest innovative engineering processes, so, too, do the connectivity solutions that bear the brunt of the harsh environments of space and space flight. Adding to the demands of the installation, a number of deployments also have limited space to reserve for these connectivity solutions, so solutions must be able to fit in seamlessly or run the risk of damage and deterioration.
The Trusted Technology
Choosing a provider of cables and connectors can be difficult, especially with the critical nature of the atmosphere in space. Organizations must ensure solutions are tried and tested in the intended environment, or as close to as possible.
In space applications, as you can imagine, low-weight and maximizing space technologies are ideal. Ensuring that the selected manufacturer is using the latest technologies in ultra-light materials can save the operator a weight reduction of as much as 50 percent as compared with other standard cable assemblies on the market today, adding benefits without sacrificing electrical and mechanical performance. Companies no longer need to decide between space saving or high-performance— there are now technologies that offer both elements.
In addition to low-weight features, also essential are flexible components. Companies such as HUBER+SUHNER are manufacturing technologies specifically for space applications. Developing state-of-the-art microwave components for more than 20 years, the company is renowned for their extensive Space Flight qualification heritage and providing industry-leading solutions which are not only dependable, scalable and reliable in theory but also in practice.
With the introduction of bend-to-the-end style technology, the patented, solderless assembly processes from HUBER+SUHNER allows operators to achieve an unparalleled bend radius right at the end of the cable entry, which eliminates the need for right-angled connectors and the risk of breaking solder joints.
Currently, providers of RF technology are investing heavily in research, development and testing which is crucial for the solutions they provide to operators.
By simulating the conditions found in outer space, it ensures all components are able to withstand the extreme requirements of their deployment. Testing in thermal vacuum chambers gives manufacturers the best indication of component operation as compared to real-life deployment. This process of test and measurement is so alike to the conditions found in space that even entire satellites and space components have been tested in this manner.
Operators should also ensure they are using the best connectors and cables for optimum performance of the connectivity solutions. In particular, TVAC type connectors are vented in such a way to ensure a continued flow of air in and out of the cable assembly, as well as fitted with additional defence properties armors to protect performance.
RF connectivity solutions, such as MIL qualified connectors, are ideal for applications where space is critical, as they are proven and reliable. MIL interface based high-density connector solutions can operate at up to 65 GHz and are available as board-to-board, board-to-panel, and cabled solutions which uses critical space and weight saving.
Continued Innovation and Seamless Operations
Innovation is the cornerstone of the NewSpace. Unsurprisingly, technology has played a huge part in space and space exploration, and with no sign of things slowing down, the industry is heading for a major boom. As the major players in the industry inch closer and closer to launch day, it is important that operators not lose sight of what is at stake at liftoff.
It is essential that operators undertake in-depth research and testing before implementing connectivity solutions into their space flight projects. To ensure a reliable, seamless operation from the testing phase to launch, these organizations must ensure they choose tried and tested microwave and RF connectivity solutions to bolster not only their current exploration and communications equipment and projects but for the future of space tourism.
Author Roman Buff is the Market Manager, Aerospace, for HUBER+SUHNER.