The prototype of the first large European space antenna, which will be on board one of the Copernicus program satellites, is being tested by researchers at the Institute for Science and Innovation in Mechanical and Industrial Engineering (INEGI) in Porto.
The prototype of the first European space antenna, the articulated arm of which is being tested at the Porto Institute, depends on “Europe’s independence in space,” said researcher Ricardo Lopes in statements to Lusa.
“Let us assume that an existing satellite no longer supports Europe or no longer accesses it. At the moment we no longer have any connection to earth observation or security data as these are always given to a country outside the European countries, which is why these projects are important, ”he said.
The need for Europe, identified by the European Commission and the European Space Agency (ESA) to “increase its independence in relation to space technology”, led in 2017 to the approval of the LEA – Large European Antenna project, which is funded with 4.9 million became euro for the Horizon 2020 program.
As part of the project, INEGI is already testing one of the five solutions it has developed to validate the articulated arm of the antenna. The solution tests three characteristics of the articulated arm: repeatability, stiffness, and solar radiation, which are critical to ensuring the correct opening of the antenna in space. This mechanism takes between 30 and 40 minutes.
“We evaluate the performance of the devices and give the company supplying the hardware information on how it is performing. If the performance is less positive, we need to provide this data or if the performance is positive. If it has excellent properties: repeatability, solar radiation, rigidity, ”he clarified.
Of the three tests, the one that “brings more responsibility” is the simulation of solar radiation, which is carried out by “special lamps,” the researcher said, adding that it takes ten days to validate all the tests that take place in Porto.
In addition to this solution, INEGI developed four more devices for testing the reflector and antenna arm, which were sent to Airbus in Germany and to the National Aerospace Institute in Spain. The equipment aims, among other things, to test the functionality of the two prototypes of the “flight package” in terms of vibration, vacuum, gravity and the exit of the ship.
With an architecture five to 20 meters in diameter, the antenna includes a reflector and a folding arm that can be used to carry out strategic missions such as earth observation, telecommunications and scientific missions.
The consortium behind the LEA project, led by the German company HPS – High Performance Space Structure Systems, joined Copernicus, an earth observation program of the European Union and ESA, in 2020 and will develop equipment for a mission under the Copernicus program. the CIMR – Copernicus Imaging Microwave Radiometer. “If we manage to fly in 2026, we can take a big step towards European independence in space, which is an increasingly important sector,” he affirmed.
For the researcher, INEGI’s participation in these projects means “a strengthening of skills” in space and enables “a lot to learn”. “These projects reinforce the skills and work we have been developing in the space testing field over the past six years. With the Copernicus mission we will learn a lot, acquire immense skills and ultimately pass on knowledge to our customers, ”emphasized Ricardo Lopes.