INEGI creates an "elastic" composite arm for future telecom satellites

Responding to a need identified by the European Space Agency (ESA), INEGI has developed a low-cost, ultra-lightweight composite arm that acts as an “elastic” hinge. The component will be applied in future telecom missions.

The challenge was clear, but difficult to achieve: to develop a spring-like structure in which the elastic energy stored by the material when closing it on land could be used to promote its opening into orbit. This new composite component will be an alternative to the current arms, articulated through metal mechanisms, difficult to assemble and integrate, and which represent an added weight in the satellite structure.

After two years of work, the COMETH project is now entering its final phase. “Two samples with different geometries have already been successfully produced and tested using tools developed for this purpose, and the next step will be the creation of a full-scale prototype in partnership with the Sonaca group,” said Ricardo Pinto, responsible for the project at INEGI. The new “self-deploying elastic hinge” will be also tested with a representative payload in a controlled environment.

INEGI, as an entity directly contracted by ESA for this project, has been responsible for much of the development work on the new component: preliminary concepts and component design, using advanced computer simulation, manufacturing process optimization, and development of components and tools for laboratory tests.

Paradigm shift impacts multiple industry sectors

By showing that it is possible to create a movable structure while maintaining the high rigidity characteristic of composite materials, “the success of the COMETH project contributes to a change in the design paradigm of composite structures, demonstrating that they can simultanealy have structural and movable functions”, explains Ricardo Pinto.

It is hoped that this paradigm shift will also impact on other sectors of industry other than space, such as automotive and aeronautics. Future applications may thus benefit from the design, manufacture and application methods developed under COMETH.

The COMETH project is being developed under ESAs programme dedicated to Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems (ARTES Advanced Technology project, ESA Contract No. 4000120195/17/NL/EM).

Universidade do Porto
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