Massive Growth In Number of Satellites Brings Unique Challenges

Governments have long been a driving force in the deployment of satellites and other space technologies. What can be seen in the last two decades is a dramatic shift towards the commercial and privatized space industry in launching new and novel satellites and measurement capabilities. As described in this article, a huge focus currently is on multi-satellite constellations.These constellations can contain hundreds of individual satellites, which has a profound impact on the technologies and costs associated with manufacturing them.

Gone are the days of large, illustrious individual satellite launches. These have been replaced by many deployments of low-cost satellites and measurement devices. These satellites designed to collect optical, radar, hyperspectral (etc.) data, and transmit/communicate that data back to Earth or to other satellites. These are likely to provide a huge impact in precision agriculture, location-based services, and the like. The market is quickly trending towards faster access to low-cost data of this type, and these observation satellites present the state of the art in this area.

However, as the market pressure pushes these satellites to drive cost down further and further for companies to remain competitive, it inevitably can lead to adverse effects. Weight is commonly a big contributor to cost, along with shielding and other protection measures. In some cases, companies will intentionally allow for designs to be deployed knowing they are flawed, simply because it’s cheaper to replace a broken satellite, than re-design one. At EMA, our experience and expertise in materials and the space environment can provide invaluable engineering information that can be used to efficiently protect and harden satellites, greatly extending their operational lifespan without accruing significant costs.

Our current tool, EMA3D-Internal is widely used to analyze the effects and performance of internal dielectrics in various space environments. Our two current developments, EMA3D-Charge (a fully coupled space radiation environment simulation), and our Space Radiation Effects Test Facility, will also allow for EMA to demonstrate how materials will perform in the space environment, and allow engineers to simulate these effects accurately. Used up front, this can provide tremendous cost savings in reducing re-launches and damage to satellites from space radiation, without drastically increasing program costs.

EMA also has experience providing consulting services for satellite constellations and launch providers in the area of space plasma effects, RF interference, and electromagnetic compatibility (EMC). EMA can help determine if optics will darken in the plasma environment. EMA services team has supported dozens of space customers in recent years.

Contact us to see how we can help!