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The evolution of testing and qualification for deployables in the NewSpace industry – with DCUBED

Podcast

Episode 25 of the Space Industry podcast is a discussion with Thomas Sinn, CEO and founder of satsearch member Deployables CubeD (DCUBED) about testing and qualification for deployables and other technologies.

Contents


Episode show notes

DCUBED is a Germany-based manufacturer of actuators and deployable structures for nanosats and smallsats, and the wider commercial space industry. In the podcast we cover:

  • How testing and qualification of deployables is currently performed.
  • Examples of different mission scenarios in which deployables are a key requirement.
  • The use of agency standards such as ECSS, GEVS, etc.
  • Ensuring successful final Assembly, Integration and Testing (AIT) of deployable sub-systems.

The portfolio of DCUBED

The DCUBED 1U 100W Origami Solar Array is a deployable 100W origami solar array for high-power space missions, stowed within a 1U form factor. DCUBED's 1U 100W Origami Solar Array aims to deliver a Commercial Off-The-Shelf (COTS) solar array solution for NewSpace, enabling high-performance applications while requiring only minimal stowed volume during launch.

The DCUBED Nano Pin Puller (nD3PP) is a compact, linear actuator with space heritage providing a smooth and reliable trigger on orbit. The nD3PP is a pin puller for small satellites, nanosatellites and other form factor systems. Applications range from triggering the release of deployable structures, such as solar arrays or antennas, to CubeSat deployers.

The DCUBED Nano Release Nut (nD3RN) is a space-proven, easy-to-use release actuator for compact space mechanisms. The nD3RN is a release nut for small satellites, nanosatellites and other form factor systems. It is used for satellite Hold Down and Release Mechanisms (HDRMs) that release the satellite from the launcher and in various other applications where a joint connection needs to be separated, for example when deploying a rover from a lander.

The DCUBED Space Selfie Stick is a deployable, compact selfie camera, providing an out-of-this-world perspective of your space mission. The Space Selfie Stick is a compact, 80 cm, self-unfurling boom (essentially acting as an extendable arm) with a commercial selfie camera on its end.


Episode transcript

Hywel: Hello everybody. I’m your host. Hywel Curtis. And I’d like to welcome you to the space industry by satsearch, where we share stories about the companies taking us into orbit. In this podcast, we delve into the opinions and expertise of the people behind the commercial space organizations of today who could become the household names of tomorrow.

Before we get started with the episode. Remember, you can find out more information about the suppliers, products, and innovations that are mentioned in this discussion on the global marketplace for space at satsearch.com.

Hello, and welcome to the episode I joined today by Thomas Sinn, CEO and founder of Deployables CubeD or DCUBED for short. DCUBED is a Germany based manufacturer of actuators and deployable structures for nanosats and smallsats and as well as the wider commercial space industry. In today’s episode, we’re going to discuss some aspects of testing and qualification for deployables and other similar technologies. So Thomas, welcome to the space industry podcast today. And is there anything you’d like to add to that introduction?

Thomas: Thank you for having there is nothing to add you, uh, summarize that quite perfectly. I’m very happy to be with you.

Hywel: Well, let’s get into this topic of testing and qualification. Now deployables kind of need to work first time when they used. They’re often mission-critical can you provide an overview to, to begin with just of what sort of testing and qualification, what do they mean in the context of deployable systems?

Thomas:
Fine, because you’re right. Deployables need to work for the first time and they’re often mission critical and that’s why a lot of companies or satellite builders go away from deployables because they are just afraid of them not working in space. But when you’re looking into where a space industry is heading towards a NewSpace constellation, it needs high performance computers onboard. We just need to have bigger structures. And then we cannot go around the use of the deployable structure because the satellites are standardized, packed quite nicely for launch, we had space at least deployables there, and this also means that the reliability and the checks that we can do here on the ground need to be approved.

And this specifically means how can we prove that the deployables work in the space, and we are trying to simulate all the conditions that are on the way to space and in space on these deployable structures.

So we often do a test as you fly approach. So we start within the start configuration where the deployable sends objectives to the launch vibration and also it’s a shock that it will see during a launch normally on a shaker table. And then when we are up in space, we’ll have thermal cycles that we get through the orbits.

If you go to the LEO there is one orbit every 90 minutes. So, we have to go through a thermal cycling. Preferably in the thermal baking chamber and then most predictably it’s the deployment that needs to work after all, just a launch and, uh, orbits here ideally, we want to have it in zero gravity, but it’s very hard to do here on the ground.

So we need to figure out how can we do a gravity offloading system or maybe flight on a proper flight. Or other methods to offload this gravity as much as possible. And the next thing is also okay. As soon as it’s deployed, how will we’ll be acting in a space environment? What will happen over the lifetime of this deployable? So there’s lot of testing and analysis, uh, being involved in may increasing this reliability. And that’s what you’re also working here at the huge, to still trying to improve on how we can make it more accessible and also a shorter timeframe. And therefore also decreasing costs for this testing still increasing the reliability.

Hywel: Lot of aspects that need to be really analyzed deeply in the nature of those analyses. Obviously relate to the missions that the deployable has to be, it is going to be used on. So maybe just to give the audience a better understanding of that when, and if you could provide some examples of different missions scenarios in, in the context of new space, perhaps where deployables are emerging as a key requirement. 

Thomas:
Right now we are developing a deployable solar array for new space nanosat constellation, but also it can be used for a small sats and here the idea is to enable 100 Watts of deployed power or just fitting in the 1U cubesatellite application for these are especially for a communication missions where we need a quite high power as we can then transmit more data, but there’s also many applications where we go for electric propulsion as we need more power there and then cost.

This is that before the computers that are on these small satellites are getting bigger and more advanced. So we need more power there. Most of the missions we are working on right now for our newspace customers are actualy in low earth orbits so between 400 and 500 kilometers. But we’ve been also tasked with submission, not only from the pros, but also more for the actuators going outside, LEO, going to the GTO, going to the moon, but also to the ground points. So there is always something that we need to keep in mind. Yeah, new space right now is mostly in a deal for just more and more applications that are looking outside of deal. And here we need to see what kind of requirements are a more constrained allotments that are then outside the deal.

Hywel: Quite a range there. Again, obviously, as you’ve mentioned, the testing is vital for such missions and then the different standards and the different organizations you have to work with will dictate which sort of, uh, standards and qualification aspect that you need to adhere to. Now, there are various established space agency standards for testing, such as ECSS and GEVS et cetera. Do you adopt these standards sort of straight away or, you know, what other approaches do you take in using the existing standards for testing and qualification?

Thomas: We started with ECSS and NASA GEVS. To look at or to get tired where we want to go, but we realized quite early that if you would follow it completely, as it’s described here, we would develop a product that is much too heavy and it would be ridiculously expensive.

So we are working together with NASA and ESA to figuring out, especially for new space application, how these standards that are developed for manned mission for Redis one, two ton, three ton satellites that are flying to Mars and flying to achieve can be adapted for a new space vacation. Cause there’s some things that are undiscussable, like, uh, reliability, uh, proof of our actuators here. We need to show that we have to reliability proven in ECSS to be even considered to fly on any kind of mission.

When we are looking now on the deployable structure where it’s more advanced concept than especially some of the easiest as sign rules don’t necessarily apply to them because yeah, it would get just too complex and it would have a constraining factor. So here. It’s a learning on both sides on the new space companies like us and also on the agency, ESA European commission, how these standards could be adapted to fit a more commercial goal. Because at the end, if we are not flying humans, they’re flying small satellites, then we can gD discuss on the safety factors and all the necessary testing to make it a more viable product that we can also compete here in Europe.

Hywel: When it comes to the use of the deployable systems and actuators that you develop, are there any specific challenges in the final assembly, integration and testing that need to be considered?

Thomas: Yeah. Yeah. Quite some challenges, but with our experience that we have over the last decade now in deployables, we got quite good in technical. The deployable is a quite complex structure with often many mechanisms on there. If we look at our powercube solar array, it’s a origami folded solar array that needs to fit in with the one U uh, box. So, uh, one of the biggest challenges is to manufacture it as much as possible in one piece. So to really reduce the assembly steps, then to fold it in a controlled matter into this, uh, deployment box, uh, ensuring that we can always order the same way.

So that’s why we could also qualify it before, because we knew exactly how it was for that before how we fold it every time when we build a flight model for it and we went through the test campaign, but then we also need to, of course, showed that it’s frying probably with each of the products that we are delivering, because yeah, we need to show it on the grounds that it’s the deploys in a space.

And we are going here to approach for making it as simple as possible. So we say if the deployable device and a round close, so one G of gravity, then it will deploy for short in space. And then after just a deployment, a test round, we need to pack it again, prepare it one last time for height. Uh, so there’s a, quite a long process involved with every deployment.

But we are making good progress in making this very standardized because at the end, we want to enable a commercially off the shelf, uh, mass, uh, products. And if we are every time spending, uh, once doing these, uh, deployment tests separately for each product, that’s not feasible. 

Hywel: Right. Actually. So it’s really about ensuring reliablity as efficiently as you can. I think you know people some people in the industry may have different opinions and experience of deployable systems. And I’m sure in the discussions you have with prospective customers or current users, you come across some common misunderstandings or misconceptions. I wonder if you could just discuss a few of those, you know, particularly when people thinking about the decision-making when it comes to the use of deployables or, or integrating them into a design.

That is a good question because we also face these misunderstandings, uh, quite often when we talk to our customers that are in the nano, smallsat world, when we say we are developing deployables, they always say, ah, we don’t need deployables because they are too complex, too expensive, and they don’t have high reliability. Cause they think often of like these deployables that are developed at almost every university right now, uh, which are more used for educational purposes.

And then when you go a level higher, as you think of these deployables, that are on the big satellites, the big solar arrays big antennas, there are many people that just see just a huge price like a related thing that we are trying to do is really endeavour, um, the trust back into a deployables that people see the deployables as a reliable means to overcome, uh, launch vehicle constraints. Because if we really want to have a small form factor in a satellite as possible was using commercial off the shelf, uh, electronics and computers.

We also need to not limit ourselves to a small form factors and we need these deployable structures in space. And as we want to produce them in mass production, there should be also a significant decrease in price and availability of this deployables delivering more trust in the whole concept. And we hope at one point we come to a conference and we say, ah, we are working on deployables. And that then people don’t say, ah, it’s too complex.

We don’t believe in the working of deployables anymore that they say, yeah, this is the way to go put the deployable on our satellite. That’s obviously on the, on of the technology side from your point of view.

Hywel: Now it just as a final question, I wouldn’t know how you also saw the, the mission requirements evolving for deployables over the next, you know, three to five years.

If you look beyond missions that are currently slated for launch currently booked for launch and what sort of capabilities deployables can provide missions and where, um, the needs for those missions are coming from the commercial sector.

Thomas: Yeah. So we see a clear need for a deployables, especially in the area of, uh, power generation. So, uh, solar arrays. And then of course the deployable radiators to get rid of all the heat. There’s so much power can generate. Then on the other hand, It’s clearly a deployable antennas on the communication side, as well as on the earth observation x-ray antennas here. We also need to have a bigger plane than, uh, as possible with the, uh, satellite.

And there is, uh, ideas using the orbit sales and, uh, solar cells for, uh, propulsion and, uh, space debris removal. So there’s, uh, quite some applications are in the pipeline for the coming years, especially for these nano and small sats. When we look at, uh, requirements for any of these structures, we will probably see change from especially the lifetime of these structures, because right now we are building them that they can last for five to 10 years.

But if we really look at how many of these new space constellations are applying the business, we are not talking about mission lifetime of five or 10 years more and maybe one year or a one and a half years, or even a shorter idea would be to the rise of the launch and also of the whole satellite, that it can be replaced more frequently with the newest technology. And with that, there is a lot of, uh, testing, no longer required, uh, to really prove that that needs to survive these many years in space.

And this was really greatly decreased the price because at the end, a long time, uh, testing is what is driving the cost here of the deployables who make really sure that after the deployment, they stay in the, um, configuration they should for the whole mission time plus X.

So I think this will be, uh, one of the main changes in requirements and this influence almost all the outflow, uh, into many other requirements. The only other thing, I also think that. More centralized interfaces would be a great to have to really make it possible to F uh, commercially off the shelf products.

Right now, we are, uh, offering most of our products with adaptable, uh, interfaces to fit many different, uh, satellite provider, rocket providers guidelines. But I think also in the future, having them more standardized, through to companies put crazy, decrease the costs as well for deployables, for mechanism, and then for the whole satellite and the service, is there a link to each other.

Hywel: Excellent. Well, thank you very much, Thomas. That’s a great place to wrap up and yeah. Thank you for all the insights you’ve shared on, on testing and the use of deployable systems. Um, I think this really, uh, taught the audience quite a lot about what goes into the preparation of such technologies and, uh, and the uses of them in today’s missions and tomorrow’s missions.

Thomas:
Of course, it was really great to speak with you. Yeah, thanks very much for the invite and always happy to talk to you about, uh, newest trends in space. Already looking forward to our next talk.

Hywel: Great. Thanks. If you’d like to find out more about DCUBED’s work and product portfolio, the links will be in the show notes and you can also find out more on the satsearch.com platform.

Do you have any specific needs for product quotes, technical documentation, introductions to the business or whatever else is required for your mission design trade design or procurement purposes? You’re obviously more than welcome to use the free request system on the site too. Thank you for listening to this episode of the space industry by satsearch.

I hope you enjoy today’s story about one of the companies taking us in orbit. We’ll be back soon with more in-depth behind the scenes insights from private space businesses. In the meantime, you can go to satsearch.com for more information on the space industry today, or find us on social media. If you have any questions or comments. Stay up to date, please subscribe to our weekly newsletter and you can also get each podcast on demand on iTunes, Spotify, the Google play store, or whichever podcast servers you typically use.

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