iX challenge: Alternative Adhesives for Automated Insert Fixtures on Spacecraft
This iX challenge competition, delivered by Innovate UK KTN, is supporting Airbus to identify innovative adhesives that can be used to adhere insert fixings to satellites.
The Innovation Exchange programme is working alongside Airbus to help them identify innovators with solutions to replace existing adhesives used to install and maintain the fixing of inserts on satellites with a potting adhesive that lends itself to an automated process (please note the automation process is excluded from this challenge).
Satellites are constructed with complex electronic and mechanical components that must withstand the conditions of a rocket launch and then operate in space, without maintenance, for usually 18+ years. A typical telecommunications satellite comprises of the spacecraft bus (which is the primary spacecraft structure containing power, temperature control and directional thrusters) and the communications payload (which receives, amplifies and retransmits the signals over a designated geographic area). To connect panels and attach equipment, specialist fixings have to be drilled and adhered into casings using a potting process. Once in place, fasteners can be installed in the inserts and tightened to form a strong attachment, critical for all the stresses induced through ground-based loading events, launch vibration and temperature cycles in space.
Adhesives will need to manage thermal cycling effects as all satellites experience severe temperature changes throughout their life, to temperatures well above the boiling point of water to extreme sub-zero temperatures, depending on their exposure to direct sunlight.
Adhesives will need to have minimal mass due to the expensive launch cost per kilogram, whilst performing effectively under frequent and many temperature cycles in orbit.
Selecting the right adhesive for space applications is extremely important, largely due to high vacuum (10-8 Torr), and temperature variations, resulting from the spacecraft’s exposure to direct sunlight. A key consideration is the outgassing property of these adhesives. Any outgassing might lead to contamination of electronic or optical components, which can have a drastic impact on the optical properties of the system. The current adhesive is applied manually, and Airbus would like help with this challenge in identifying innovative organisations who are using or developing specialist adhesives in other sectors that could potentially be applied to an automated process of potting the fixings with adhesives with similar or better properties. The existing adhesive has significant heritage for the manual process however is not suited to automation due to complications associated with three-part mixes.
Adhesives also need to be free from air pockets as during dynamic loading during ground testing and launch, voids act as stress concentrations that can lead to failure whilst in space – the temperatures and lack of pressure can cause stresses that can lead to these voids initiating fractures in the pot (foaming adhesives are an exception here, maximum allowable intentional void diameter is 1mm. Current potting compound composition varies depending on micro balloons in compound. (Potting is the diameter and depth of the hole).
Further technical details on the requirements for adhesives are available here.
Rewards & Benefits
Successful applicants will be given an opportunity to pitch to the challenger.
The package may also include:
- Opportunity to get in to business in the fast-growing space sector.
- Support from Airbus to test and develop the solution.
- Support from the Catapult networks and the Innovate UK KTN.
- Support in the development of a prototype or pilot.
- Technical support.
- Invitation to attend or present at Innovate UK KTN or Catapult events.
- A potential business collaboration.
- Investor introductions (if investment is required).
- Support if any innovation or similar competitions are relevant.
Entrants to this competition must be:
- Established businesses, start-ups, SMEs, individual entrepreneurs, or academia.
- UK-based or have the intention to set up a UK base.