National Physical Laboratory

NPL helps assess ESA's solar array drive mechanism

The European Space Agency (ESA) has used a microvibration platform, designed and built by National Physical Laboratory (NPL), to assess the performance of a solar array drive mechanism for the forthcoming Meteosat Third Generation satellites.

Copyright: ESA - G Porter
Copyright: ESA – G Porter

The NPL microvibration platform can measure vibrations made by subsystems to an unprecedented degree of accuracy – so sensitive it can measure the force of a single dropped feather. The platform also generates small, controlled forces and torques to shake satellite instruments and components in six degrees of freedom (6DoF).

The platform is the latest addition to ESA's test centre in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, and is being used to check the extremely small disturbances from satellite systems or to assess the performance of precision mechanisms.

The platform's first task was to assess the performance of a solar array drive mechanism built by Ruag Space in Switzerland for the forthcoming Meteosat Third Generation satellites. The smooth running of the mechanism that will align the solar wings powering Europe's latest weather satellite was demonstrated using the new microvibration platform.

These drives slowly move to keep a satellite's solar array fixed on the Sun and ensure the steady flow of power. During testing a hoop-like structure was attached to the mechanism to simulate a solar array.

Mark Wagner, Head of Test Facilities at ESA, said: "It took more than four years of development and prototype testing to achieve a test facility capable of measuring interface forces and moments in the low micronewton regime – equivalent to 0.0001 grams of weight – at very low frequencies.

"It has triggered a lot of interest, with various companies requesting test slots: this is a unique facility globally – not only allowing the traceable measurement of six-degrees-of-freedom microvibration disturbance, but also featuring an excitation mode offering microvibration susceptibility tests for payloads up to 50 kg in weight."

Stefan Wismer of Ruag Space added: "We have recorded the micro vibration performance of the mechanism with unprecedented accuracy and signal-to-noise ratio. In addition, the new machine allows measuring signals as slow as 0.01 Hz, which is 100 times slower than the facility previously used."

If you need assistance in developing highly-accurate metrology instruments, sensors and artefacts, then contact the NPL Instruments team, with experience and facilities dedicated to developing and applying instruments, standards and methodologies to provide traceable measurements across a broad range of disciplines. The range of instruments we can provide extends from bespoke systems designed to meet specific measurement requirements to standard artefacts and complete metrology systems based on those operated at NPL.

View the solar array drive mechanism on microvibration unit on ESA Space in Images

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Last Updated: 21 Feb 2017
Created: 21 Feb 2017

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