Revolutionary changes are currently underway in space: Internet is to be made available worldwide via small satellite networks. Hundreds of satellites will have to be produced for this purpose, and this presents new challenges for space travel in the transition from the current individual manufacture to the use of modern, highly automated series production. The coming mega-constellations require advanced innovative approaches in production methods, but also open up new potential for further increasing the robustness and efficiency of the satellites. ZfT has set development priorities in these emerging future technologies and is involved in preparing these technologies in numerous projects.
While traditional satellites were previously produced in the double-digit range per year in individual manufacture worldwide, an increase to several hundred is now being observed. This requires and now enables the use of cost-efficient advanced automation methods in the field of space travel. For ZfT, it offers an excellent opportunity to use the synergies of the three departments Space, Automation and Robotic Vehicles to be at the forefront of research.
Concepts from the area of Industry 4.0 are transferred here to satellite manufacturing. This begins with the modular design of the satellite with a view to the subsequent production steps. The manufacturing processes must also take into account the particularly high quality requirements and the extreme space environments (temperature, vacuum, interference radiation, little-known operating environment, etc.) of space travel. In space manufacturing, the transition from manual work to the use of robots (robot arms, mobile transport robots) still poses a great challenge. In analogy to industrial production, variants of a standard product are to be produced in small numbers in the future, even in the complicated production of satellites. The production processes are to change flexibly according to the results of the tests or adapt to special configurations of the satellites. Concepts from Industry 4.0, such as adaptive production for small batch sizes, the use of telematics and remote maintenance will be combined with the experience gained from modular micro satellite development. Special attention is paid to the operational safety and security of data transmission. Based on these automation and robotics technologies used on earth, the project also investigates how similar production methods can be used for manufacturing in orbit to increase efficiency.
Advantages of the methods used here include:
Modular components are an essential element for efficient production processes, but they also simplify cooperation between partners. The introduction of the CubeSat standard in the form of 10 cm cubes has massively promoted the spread of pico-satellites, so that in 2017 alone, about 475 micro-satellites will be put into orbit. The introduction of standards for electrical interfaces promises to provide further important impetus, as this will enable the use of subsystems and components from different manufacturers.
The Center for Telematics is working with the international University Space Engineering Consortium (UNISEC, about 100 international universities with space programs) to develop and disseminate appropriate high-performance standards. The UNISEC Europe standard provided here is characterized by data connections with high data rates, low space requirements, clear definition of all lines, as well as redundant design of power supply and communication lines. This work is consistently applied at ZfT in all space projects and has meanwhile found international distribution, not only in the academic but also in the industrial sector. The ZfT offers development environments as a product to support the further distribution of this standard.