IOP Institute of Physics

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Oxford Space Systems

For the development of the AstroTube Space Boom.

Launching satellites into space is very expensive – each kilogram costs around £50,000 to put into orbit. Booms are regularly used in satellites to deploy scientific instruments once the satellite is in orbit. Conventional booms are complex, heavy and expensive.

Oxford Space Systems’ AstroTube boom addresses this problem using a combination of advanced materials and a new, proprietary physics-based software tool. The advanced proprietary materials developed include highly tuneable flexible composites: carbon-fibre-based materials that are thin enough to be rolled and stowed in a compact form, yet become fully rigid when deployed into their final configuration. Using these advanced materials, together with origami, allows for class-leading stowage efficiency and complexity reduction, meaning that deployable structures can be stowed more efficiently than ever before.

This translates into significant savings in terms of launch cost due to the reduced volume and mass of the satellite. The state-of-the art software developed by OSS, in collaboration with the University of Bristol, uses the latest research in applied mechanics to reliably predict the performance of flexible composites. An ability to predict on-orbit behaviour is critical in such a risk-averse industry and thus was key to achieving the first – and record-breaking – on-orbit demonstration in late 2016. This software was developed and validated using a comprehensive experimental programme and orbital operations data. OSS has been approached by two well-known US aerospace entities with requests to purchase the new proprietary software.

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