The New Space company DcubeD and the supplier of innovative micro actuators memetis received the ZIM funding to develop PAKKS – a resettable and easy to integrate pico actuator for SmallSats and NanoSats. PAKKS will have the size of just a few millimeters and enable reliable deployment of structures even for the smallest satellites.
With the ongoing New Space transition, the satellites are getting smaller and smaller. However, the power, RF and thermal management demands of satellites are only increasing. The next generation of satellites needs sizeable solar panels for power, larger antennas for high data transfer, bigger radiators to dissipate all the heat, solar sails to deorbit after the mission. The catch: all these subsystems need to fit into the limited space available for satellites of small form factor. These structures need to be stowed inside a small volume during launch to be deployed once in orbit. This is achieved using release actuators.
There are release mechanisms available for bigger satellites, but they are often too heavy, too big and too expensive for smaller satellites, especially for CubeSats of size 1U and smaller and PocketQubes. There being no release actuators for this size class, the usual way to implement deployable structures is using “burn-wires”. This method is based on a wire holding the structure down, which is cut via a thermal knife once deployment is initiated, so it is not resettable and not testable. The mechanism needs to be restored after every use and the reliability depends highly on the craftsmanship during the refurbishment. This makes the burn-wires prone to failure, which, for many missions, mean the difference between a successful mission and a useless satellite.
The goal of the PAKKS is to develop a resettable and testable release actuator to replace the burn-wires and provide a reliable solution to deploy CubeSat and PocketQube solar arrays, antennas, solar sails, and radiators. The actuator will be designed with satellites 1U and smaller in mind and will have the size of a few millimeters, so that it can be integrated between the standard CubeSat PCBs. The shape-memory alloy (SMA) foil-based actuator will operate with the on-board power supply of the satellites and provide feedback on the deployment status.
The company DcubeD has well-established experience in space mechanisms and offers release actuators with flight heritage for SmallSats. The company memetis specializes in micro actuators based on shape-memory alloy technology for when a movement needs to be realized in the smallest installation space. To provide a reliable alternative to burn-wires, the companies teamed up and received the ZIM funding under the Central Innovation Programme for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) of the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action (BMWK). ZIM is the largest innovation program for SMEs in Germany and funds innovative companies with business operations in Germany that want to develop new or significantly improve existing products or technical services. PAKKS project was kicked off in July and will run for 18 months including the test campaign.