Extremely compact, deployable, lightweight composite booms are being developed now for future deep space small spacecraft missions.
In recent years, NASA and other organizations have begun to use small satellites more and more as technologists have miniaturized spacecraft avionics. Small satellites can now be used for some missions previously reserved for larger satellites. Additionally, they have a lower manufacturing cost compared to larger satellites and can be mass produced more easily.
Small satellites are particularly great candidates for carrying deployable antennas, radiators, solar panels and other instruments. However, there are limited designs for compact, lightweight support structures that can be folded or rolled up for launch and then self-deployed in space to support these kinds of systems on small satellites.
NASA’s Deployable Composite Boom (DCB) project, led out of NASA’s Langley Research Center is answering this need for a lightweight, foldable/rollable structural material to enable large deployable systems on small satellites. The project is developing 54-foot, thin-shell composite structural booms much lighter than metals. These booms can physically extend and support a wide range of small satellite deployable systems, such as solar arrays, antennas, drag sails, solar sails, and more. Under this project, the German Aerospace Center (DLR) is developing the unit that will store and deploy these composite booms and is performing structural testing of the booms for the project.
These DCB booms will enable high-power solar arrays, large antennas for high data rate communications, large drag augmentation devices, and high thrust propulsion systems to be included on small satellites. These new composite booms are inexpensive to manufacture and have the ability to be packaged in very small volumes for a long period of time without becoming distorted in shape. Additionally, the DCB team has performed functional testing on the booms that shows they deploy reliably and maintain the intended structural performance and shape once deployed.
Before launching a mission into space, these thin-ply composite booms will be flattened and rolled onto spools, much like a carpenter’s measuring tape, for compact stowage within the spacecraft. These dimensionally stable and lightweight booms are 75 percent lighter and experience 100 times less in-space thermal distortion than equivalent thin-shell metallic booms. For example, because DCB booms are so light, stiff and package so tightly, engineers could significantly increase the size of the solar sails on small satellite platforms, which could more than triple the propulsion performance of state-of-the-art solar sail structures under development.
The DCB team is aiming to qualify its boom concept to be considered ready for flight by the end of 2020. This will prepare the technology for possible use on future deep space small satellite missions. The DCB booms will ultimately enable a variety of science and exploration missions for small sailcraft, including communication relays between the Earth and Moon, asteroid and planetary reconnaissance, and space weather early warning platforms for human exploration support.
The German Aerospace Center (DLR) is a collaboration partner on the DCB project and is performing structural characterization testing of the DCB developed boom. DLR is also developing the boom deployer mechanism for demonstrating the functional performance of the booms, particularly packaging and deployment. The University of Central Florida is also supporting testing and modeling of the thin-ply composite laminate materials and representative boom forms for characterization of viscoelastic behavior.
Currently, DCB technology is being infused into a small solar sail system – called the Advanced Composites Solar Sail System (ACS3) – for flight testing. The ACS3 payload, being developed at NASA’s Langley Research Center, in Hampton, Va., is about the size of a shoebox. The 30 ft by 30 ft square solar sail consists of four triangular aluminum-coated plastic membrane sails supported by four 23-foot composite booms provided by the DCB project.
The ACS3 spacecraft will be deployed and tested in Low Earth Orbit (LEO), where a suite of onboard digital cameras will obtain images of the solar sail during and after deployment to assess the shape and precision of the deployed solar sail and composite booms. The collected ACS3 flight data will be used to design future, larger-scale solar sail systems based on the DCB boom technology. The ACS3 technology project is funded by NASA’s Small Satellite Technology Program.
In addition to this work, DCB’s larger 54-foot booms could enable a scaled-up, mission-enabling version of the ACS3 system to be flown in a larger platform, such as a 27U cube satellite (1 ft3 in volume), which is about twice the size of the current ACS3 satellite
DCB is also in discussions with the other NASA projects and the Air Force Research Lab to support flight experiments that could benefit from their boom technologies, and is licensing some of the boom technologies invented to industry for commercial exploitation.
October 2019 – The DCB team completed fabrication of five composite booms that are roughly 5 inches tall and 54 feet long.
November 2019 – The DCB team delivered the composite booms to the German Aerospace Center (DLR) for use in packaging and deployment testing with the DLR’s engineering model boom deployer.
Technical Paper Resources:
|Principal Technologist||Principal Investigator||Project Manager|
|Mark Hilburger (firstname.lastname@example.org)||Juan M. “Johnny” Fernandez (email@example.com)||Phillip L. Brown (firstname.lastname@example.org)|
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