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SMi SmallSatellites 2020  Satellite Communications Technology

SENER designs the mechanisms for the assembly of Electra, the first European commercial satellite with electric propulsion

(10 September 2019 - SENER) SENER has won a contract for the design and production of mechanical ground support equipment for Electra.

This is a project supported by the European Space Agency (ESA), in the framework of public-private partnership, for developing, launching and validating in orbit a full electric-propulsion telecommunications satellite in the 3-ton launch mass range. The launch of the first Electra satellite is scheduled for 2023.

SENER won a contract from OHB, the main contractor for the Electra program and one of the largest companies in the European space industry. OHB cooperates with the European Space Agency in the framework of the aforementioned public-private partnership.

The contract awarded to SENER includes the design and production of a set of Mechanical Ground Support Equipment (MGSE). MGSEs are used, among others, for precise movement of the satellite in various directions to enable access for technicians and its transport to test chambers or a launch rocket. MGSE production and satellite assembly are major engineering challenges, because almost every satellite is one of a kind. These constructions weigh from a few hundred kilograms to several tons and consist of thousands of parts and kilometers of cables.

The device designed by SENER for the purposes of the Electra project will provide, among others, a secure and ergonomic support of the flight panels for equipment integration. Thanks to the possibility of adjusting the configuration, MGSE can be used for panels of various sizes and mass. Among the devices that SENER will provide will also be a vertical stand that will support the central structure of the satellite during the integration of the equipped panels and payload modules.

The contract for Electra is another SENER project concerning the production of MGSEs. Last year, the company delivered 13 devices for the Euclid mission, for which SENER also delivered the antenna deployment and pointing mechanism.

Besides, for Electra the SENER group is also in charge of the telemetry and telecommand antennas in Ku band, and of two global coverage antennas, one for transmission and the other one for reception. This equipment has already passed the critical design review (CDR) and is awaiting the next stage, for equipment manufacturing, to be started.

The goal of Electra is to develop a new class of telecommunications satellites. Thanks to the use of the electric propulsion, their mass, and thus the cost of launching into orbit, will be much smaller than those with chemical propulsion.

Electric propulsion is becoming an established solution in the space industry, as practice shows that the mass of electric propulsion is up to 90% smaller than traditional chemical propulsion. This translates into a mass reduction of the satellite by almost half. Considering the high costs of lifting every kilogram into orbit, such a large weight reduction enables a radical reduction in the costs of space missions and increasing their availability for entities that previously couldn’t afford it.

SENER Aeroespacial has been a leading supplier of high performance aerospace systems for Space, Defence and Science for more than 50 years, with high added value technological developments. In Space, it supplies electromechanical components and systems, navigation systems (GNC/AOCS), communications, astronomy and optics systems for Space, and it is currently participating in the main programs of ESA and NASA (including Euclid, Meteosat Third Generation, Solar Orbiter, JUICE, Proba-3, Hubble, Galileo, Rosetta, Gaia, Herschel and Planck, IXV, BepiColombo and Mars 2020) and the European Space Observatory, as well as in the commercial market and New Space. In Defence, it develops electromechanical systems, COMINT (communications intelligence) and communications links (D-Link), as well as helicopter modernization services. In Astronomy and Science, it produces precision mechanical equipment for terrestrial telescopes and engineering services. And, finally, its ATC & Broadcast division is a supplier of antennas and passive units.