Micro- and Nanosatellites Could Populate New Earth-Orbit Constellations
A team of researchers from The Aerospace Corp., led by I.L. Helvajian, hopes developments in laser machining will allow space agencies and communications companies to produce satellites with diameters under 15 cm, the same way hardware manufacturers make laptop computers. Helvajian's team is using laser ablation and chemical etching techniques to create microthruster systems. The satellites comprise four glass substrate wafers including infrared detectors, photovoltaics, fuel cells, electronics and microantenna arrays. The thruster systems are the last technological hurdle in the design process, he said. The satellites will depend on either electricity or compressed gas for propulsion. Before mass production will be possible, however, Helvajian is looking for the development of a laser ablation manufacturing process capable of creating 3-D structures in a single pass.
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