Small satellite PEASSS takes big step in space technology

European consortium develops equipment to measure satellite deformation • 02 Aug 2017

Demand for compact, lightweight satellites that are cheap to produce is growing fast. Satellites the size of a carton of milk, or CubeSats as they are known, are now an integral part of the space industry. These satellites are used for gathering data about the Earth’s surface and atmosphere, for example, or for taking photos. However, small satellites can be vulnerable, especially the on-board equipment they carry. TNO has been leading the development of a technology (‘smart structures’) within the EU funded PEASSS project, which measures the deformation of the satellite and is able to correct this in space.

Such measurements provide insight into the deformation of the material and can therefore be used by researchers and commercial companies to modify the construction of new satellites. A satellite to test this technology was successfully launched on 15 February 2017; six months later and all the system components that were developed are still operating – proof that the technology works.This knowledge signals a breakthrough in the development of small satellites, making space accessible to a growing group of commercial companies.

Working solution

A satellite is exposed to extreme temperatures in space, which can easily cause it to deform and thereby affect the measurements made by the equipment. The PEASSS consortium has come up with a working solution. PEASSS stands for Piezo Electric Assisted Smart Satellite Structure. The research satellite contains equipment that transmits these deformation measurements to Earth. The deformation is measured using fibre-optics and is corrected, where necessary, with piezo-electric actuators.

European collaboration

The PEASSS satellite has been developed by a European consortium, coordinated by TNO. In 2013, the European Union awarded the contract to the European consortium comprising Sonaca Space (Germany), TNO and  ISIS (Netherlands), Sonaca (Belgium) and NSL and Technion (Israel). The consortium partners of established aerospace organisations along with SMEs and scientists have developed and demonstrated “smart structures” with a combination of new technologies: composite panels, piezo-actuated structures, piezo-electric materials to produce energy, next generation fibre-optic sensors and innovative satellite electronics.

Acceleration of technology

The total budget for the PEASSS project of nearly 2.5 million euros is a relatively small amount compared with the budget for developing large satellites. Small satellites tend to use existing technologies and materials from other sectors in smart combinations. Since the costs are relatively low, many iterations were performed in a short period of time during the development phase, something that significantly accelerates the development of technology for small satellites.

Following the successful launch and test period of the PEASSS satellite, working building blocks have again been delivered for the next step to be taken. Apart from the programmatic and technical management of the PEASSS project team, TNO was also responsible for producing the fibre-optic sensors. TNO is also leading the dissemination programme.


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