Spotlight: Tensor Tech – pioneering spherical motor technology

Spotlight

This article is a profile of satsearch member Tensor Tech, developed in collaboration with the company.


Introduction

Tensor Tech is a young space technology company based in Taipei City in Taiwan, formed as the result of a university research project.

Tensor Tech is bringing innovative spherical motor technology to the space industry, and hopes to develop a new standard of quality in attitude control and efficiency.

In this article we take a look at how Tensor Tech began, what products the company offers today, and what the future holds for the business.


The company’s origins

Tensor Tech was formed by a group of students from National Cheng Kung University (NCKU) in southern Taiwan.

However, while the genesis for the company’s products was formed at NCKU, several of the co-founders actually go back even further, having attended high school together.

NCKU is one of few institutions in Taiwan with an established satellite development programme and the founders participated in a prestigious research project together, which aimed to develop a reaction wheel motor for the National Space Organisation.

During this work the Tensor Tech team investigated several different kinds of motor technology suitable for spacecraft, analysing the electronic and mechanical capabilities to try and find the optimal solutions for different mission parameters.

Research that began in 2016 led to the development of a spherical motor system that formed the basis of a reaction sphere – an alternative to one or more reaction wheels for precise satellite attitude control.

The project brought together experts in both mechanical motor technology and satellite operation and sub-system development. This enabled the team to get a full understanding of the capabilities and potential space applications of the solution developed.

Aspects of the spherical motor system were adapted to make the device suitable for use in space, with components and circuits hardened to radiation, and a range of thermal, vacuum and vibrational tests undertaken.

Once the initial work was completed the team had identified a significant opportunity for small satellites and set out to develop the Tensor Tech commercial brand.

The company is now very excited to bring this technology to the space industry, prove the concept in-orbit and share their story with the global community.


Tensor Tech’s products and services

To date Tensor Tech has launched three products available on the satsearch platform:


RS100 – Reaction Sphere

The RS100 can effectively replace 3 traditional reaction wheels in terms of functionality and torque output, but with a third of the volume, mass, and power requirements.

Features: angular momentum storage of 10 mN m s, maximum torque of 1 mN m and a magnetic moment of 0.2 A m^2. The motor functions like a single-gimbal Control Moment Gyro (CMG) but is actuated by a spherical motor and can act similar to 3 magnetorquers – one each in the X-, Y- and Z-axes.


ADCS100 – Integrated ADCS with Reaction Sphere

Designed for 1.5U, 2U, 3U, or 6U CubeSats and featuring a full set of attitude determination and actuator hardware and firmware embedded.

Features: mass of less than 400 g, power consumption of less than 1 W, angular momentum storage of 10 mN m s, and maximum torque of 1 mN m.


FSS100 – Nano Fine Sun Sensor

An efficient fine sun sensor that can also be operated as a coarse sensor if required.

Features: ability to sense the direction of sunlight in two vectors, provides pointing knowledge up to 0.1 deg (3-sigma, no albedo), and operates with a current of < 5 mA.


Recent achievements

In recent years, and as a student team, Tensor Tech has won a number of national awards for engineering excellence and innovation – including awards at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair and Taiwan International Science Fair.

The Tensor Tech team were able to build upon the work undertaken in a research setting to develop a commercial offer.

Extending the electrical and mechanical properties of the technology required the expertise of stakeholders with experience building space-grade products.

This led to the launch of a small portfolio of products that Tensor Tech aims to bring to the global market.

The reaction sphere has now passed vibrational and vacuum environmental testing in certified laboratories – we’ll share more on this technology in a future article.

The next step for Tensor Tech is to cooperate with an in-orbit demonstration (IOD) provider to put the ADCS into orbit and test the full functionality.

This demonstration is now in development and a successful mission will mean that flight heritage (TRL9) for the product will be realised by June or July 2021.

Tensor Tech’s research and commercial partners.

The future at Tensor Tech

With the launch of the reaction sphere’s IOD mission in summer of 2021, Tensor Tech hopes to be on a path to further growing sales and business development opportunities later in the year.

The potential performance and efficiency enhancements that the technology can achieve has interested users all over the world and space heritage will help bring the technology fully to market.

Following this, Tensor Tech aims to continue contributing to missions and services that will benefit from technology miniaturisation.

The company believes that spherical motor technology can provide the solution for the difficult challenge of achieving a significant reduction in the volume and mass required for a satellite’s ADCS.

In turn, this could open up new opportunities for satellite manufacturers and operators who will be able to achieve their required attitude control in a lighter, smaller footprint, giving them more weight and volume budget to use for primary payloads.

Spherical motor technology could also lower costs for small satellite manufacturers and can be effectively scaled up for larger craft.

We are very pleased to be working with Tensor Tech to bring spherical motor technology to the global market and will go into more detail on the system in a future article.

In the meantime, to find out more about Tensor Tech and its suite of products, please view the company’s page on the satsearch platform.

engineering
member spotlight
reaction sphere
reaction wheels
small satellite
spherical motor

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