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Machinery that circles the heavens, training its gaze either on Earth
or out towards the stars, needs to be first tested and validated on
solid ground. Spain’s Telstar group of companies includes Telstar
Vacuum Solutions, which capitalizes on its knowledge of vacuum
systems to design test chambers for spacecraft.
“A satellite has to be tested in an environment that simulates
the space environment,” says Ferran Costas, director of Telstar
Vacuum Solutions. “This means you need to re-create a vacuum,
with extreme temperature ranges from -190 ̊C to up to 180 ̊C.”
The chambers the company designs can reach the necessary
ultrahigh vacuum conditions and endure the wide temperature
swings, and range from small spaces to test individual pieces of
electronic equipment, to large rooms for observation satellite
Sener, an engineering company, began working in the space
sector more than 40 years ago, even before the creation of the
official European Space Agency (ESA). The company developed
the Kiruna launch base in Sweden, and has “the capability to
build any moving part in a satellite,” points out Diego Rodriguez,
director of Sener’s space division.
The company is currently working on building a sun shield
for the telescope for the new ESA satellite Gaia. Gaia’s sensi-
tive telescope is destined to help create a three-dimensional map
of our galaxy. “The telescope has to be protected from the sun,
with a large 11-meter diameter umbrella,” says Rodriguez, “and
that umbrella has to be deployed once the satellite is in space.”
The need for a sun shield introduces a number of complica-
tions, such as how to store an element that large in as small a
space as possible, adding as little weight as possible, while ensur-
ing that its mechanisms and material won’t be affected by swings
in temperature and that it will deploy in space without incident.
“T his is an important failure point—if we do not deploy properly,
we’ll lose the mission,” he explains. Sener is now in the process
of evaluating the sun shield deployment in ESA’s test chambers.
For NASA, Sener built the antenna-pointing mechanism used
in the new Mars Rover. “On Mars, mechanisms suffer because
the dust is so thin, it gets everywhere and gets mixed up with
lubrication,” Rodriguez describes. “The best [plan] is to protect
junctions with a flexible material that can follow movement but
seals the whole junction.” For a future European Mars rover,
Sener is also designing a drill.
Indra, a Madrid-based international technology company with
about 30 thousand employees, has a division devoted to space.
For the ESA satellite that measures ocean salinity—it’s named
Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity (SMOS)—Indra led a team
responsible for building the hardware and software for ground
stations and for data processing centers, dedicated to receiving
data from the satellite and making it accessible to scientists. The
satellite was launched last November.
Mier, which began working in antennas more than a half century
every time astronauts launch into space, their muscles start to
deteriorate. “When we’re on e a rth, we exercise all day. Just
standing up is a form of exercise, because we’re supporting our
body with muscle groups,” says Jordi duatis, Muscular atrophy
re search and e xercise system (Mares) payload engineering
manager with nte-sener. “But when you’re in microgravity, you’re
not doing any exercise.you’re continuously losing muscle mass.”
astronauts currently exercise about two and a half hours a day
while traveling beyond our atmosphere . scientists wanted more
detailed information on exactly what happens to their muscles in
microgravity, and whether their exercises are the best to keep them
fit.the precursor of Mares, a small system that tests only the ankle
and elbow joints, couldn’t fill in the gaps about a whole range of
to delve into these questions, and to help devise a plan to maximize
astronaut fitness, the european space agency (esa) began the
Mares project together with nasa, using nasa’s h u m an
re search f acility. nte-se ner, which won the contract for the
system, began developing the concept about fifteen years ago.
Working in close coordination with esa and with the astronauts
themselves,nte engineers created a tool with more than 100 different
mechanical elements that can be combined in different configurations
to isolate 11 different muscle groups and test them against specific
forces and in various modes of muscle contraction.
the astronauts strap themselves into an adjustable chair that
includes levers, connectors, pads, and handgrips.“it’s like a contest
between you and the machine,” says duatis. all the information
from the tests is fed to a laptop.
astronauts visited the Barcelona test facility throughout the
development of Mares to try it out, from the beginning of the
design phase through the final product; it is up to the astronauts to
assemble the system in space. Mares was launched in ap ril 2010
inside a logistics module to the international space station. after
all the tests are done to ensure that the motor, the sensors, the
safety devices, and all other mechanical parts are working perfectly,
the first scientific experiments are expected to begin by spring 2011.
photo courtesy of nte- sener
10/12/2010 2:57:18 PM
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