Carbon fibre – advanced mechanical satellite structures

The technical standards of mechanical structures for use on satellites and space probes are extremely high. DTU Space develops new carbon fibre structures that comply with these high standards, and the Institute is responsible for delivering structures in these new materials to several future missions.

The following standards always apply to mechanical structures for rocket launch into space:  

  • they must be as light as possible
  • they must be as small as possible
  • they must be as rigid as possible
  • they must be as robust as possible to withstand the harsh conditions of outer space.

To comply with these high standards, DTU Space has built up expertise in the design and testing of mechanical structures made of carbon fibre-reinforced plastic (CFRP). In particular, research has focused on the optimum design of structures that can withstand being cooled to approximately absolute zero (-273.15 °C).  

DTU Space has been responsible for designing carbon fibre reflectors for ESA’s Planck microwave observatory. Here the requirements were that the reflectors should have a smooth surface and retain their shape when cooled to a temperature of -225 °C. 

DTU Space was also responsible for the design, manufacture and testing of the advanced structure for suspending the Mid InfraRed Instrument (MIRI) aboard the James Webb Space Telescope, which will replace the extremely successful Hubble Space Telescope.

The structure requirements were partly that MIRI remained in telescope focus following the harsh launch conditions and partly that MIRI continued to be in focus when the entire main part of the telescope was cooled to a temperature of -265 °C. The structure was manufactured and tested in Denmark.