Case story

Solar Arrays for Next Generation Satellites

Langley Mill, UK

This project was completed under the company name TenCate Advanced Composites, prior to our acquisition by Toray Indutries and name change to Toray Advanced Composites in 2019.

Airbus Defence and Space Netherlands, Airborne Aerospace, and TenCate Advanced Composites have developed and qualified the next generation, state-of-the-art substrate panel technology for satellite solar arrays. The panel design, materials, processes, and tooling were improved from previous panels with the main goals being increased process robustness, product performance, and cost-efficiency.

The Strength of Partnership

Airborne will utilize composite materials supplied by TenCate Advanced Composites to create the substrate panels of the Advanced Rigid Array (ARA) Mk4 solar array system for satellites. The ARA Mk4 technology, developed by Airbus Defence and Space Netherlands in close cooperation with Airborne, will be deployed on solar arrays for European Space Agency (ESA) missions. The development and qualification of this new panel technology was supported by the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Netherlands Space Office (NSO).

The assembled solar array is designed by Airbus Defence and Space Netherlands to be low in mass with high stiffness in stowed configuration (in order to survive the launcher loads and frequencies), as well as in deployed wing configuration. The titanium inserts in the panel are the hold-down interfacing toward the spacecraft sidewalls (stowed) and the edge-members connect to the hinge mechanisms for wing deployment in space.

Material Solution

The substrate panel features the next generation of space prepregs developed by TenCate Advanced Composites on areas including the facesheets, edge-members, and patches. TenCate RS36, an epoxy-based thermoset prepreg for structural composite applications was selected as the material solution.

  • Cost-effective, space qualified
  • Exceptionally tough, to resist microcracking
  • High glass transition temperature (Tg)
  • Low coefficient of moisture expansion (CME)
  • Low coefficient of thermal expansion (CTE)
  • Low outgassing

In May 2017, TenCate and Airborne signed a long-term agreement for the supply of these materials, in uni-directional and fabric prepreg format from TenCate’s European Centre of Excellence for thermoset systems in Langley Mill (Nottingham), UK.

Next Generation Space Exploration

The first solar array with ARA Mk4 technology will be launched in 2018, on ESA’s European Data Relay System (EDRS-C) satellite. EDRS is an independent, European satellite system designed to reduce time delays in the transmission of large quantities of data. The solar array for EDRS consists of two wings, each with a length of approx. 7 meters.

Future deployments of the ARA Mk technology include the JUICE (JUpiterICy moons Explorer) mission, planned for launch in 2022, which features the largest solar array ever flown on an interplanetary mission, covering a total surface area of nearly 100m², and the MetOp-SG, which carries the objective to provide operational observations and measurements from polar orbit for for weather prediction and climate modeling and monitoring.

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