RolaTube booms were used for the InflateSail mission in 2017. This was the first European spacecraft to successfully demonstrate de-orbiting – deliberately causing a satellite to re-enter and burn up – in a drive to reduce the amount of hazardous “Space Junk” currently causing problems by taking up orbits that are needed for new spacecraft.
This was followed by the launch in April 2018 of “RemoveDEBRIS”. This mission takes the proven InflateSail mechanism and combines it with technology demonstrators to show how existing debris can be tracked using LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging), then captured by either a harpoon or a net, then de-orbited to clear critical orbital slots.
This YouTube Video, made by the European Space Agency, explains the issue of Orbital Debris and its impact on Space Technology: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eYVsVRgiS0w
Having proven their utility, RolaTube based mechanisms are being taken on to other functions, with projects underway to use them to reduce the size and mass, as well as simplify the deployment of, Solar Cell Arrays, Antennas, Instrument Booms, Capture Arms and Docking Systems and potentially many other areas of Spaceflight Engineering.
Solar Cells, or Photo Voltaic (PV) Arrays, are the main source of power for most spacecraft and satellites. They are also reputedly the most common source of spacecraft failure. If another sub-system fails, the craft may well complete a substantial part of its mission but, without power, nothing works.
BRCs can replace the complex arrangements of hinged panels, springs, cables and motors used to deploy the current generation of PV Arrays with BRC based systems that are lighter, simpler and, because of their simplicity, far more inherently reliable. This allows the available power budget of many spacecraft to be increased and makes possible a reduction in the launch mass, enhancing performance whilst reducing launch costs.
The nature of BRCs also allows them to combine systems such as PV Arrays with other sub-systems, such as Drag-Deorbit Sails. By sharing the same motors, power bus and other mechanical components, the size and mass of more than one system can be significantly reduced. This allows greater payload capacity to be combined with reductions in launch mass, improving performance and reducing costs.
All Spacecraft, from the smallest CubeSat to major CommSats and Manned Missions are completely dependent on their antenna systems . Without the ability to communicate with Earth Stations and each other, no mission can complete its goals.
The compact nature of BRCs makes them ideal for providing antennas for spacecraft, from simple dipoles to complex helical antennas and curved reflectors to increase the gain for short wavelengths. BRCs can provide solutions to the problems of antenna design in an environment where the requirement for compact stowage often combines with a need for very large structures to be deployed for use.
RTL has extensive experience working on terrestrial antennas. In particular we have learned to build antenna elements into the structure of BRCs, producing antenna masts for disaster relief services and the military that integrate multiple broadband antennas into the structure of the mast. These not only reduce the weight and size of the load that has to be carried in difficult circumstances but are quicker and easier to use and have better RF characteristics than their “orthodox” competitors. By bringing this experience into the Space Sector RTL can offer the same advantages in an even more challenging environment.
As with other BRC systems, BRC antennas can share their deployment mechanisms with other sub-systems, further reducing the overall mass and space required and allowing more scope for mission goals to be addressed.