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Magnet Technology to Boost Satellite Capability

Superconducting Magnets in Satellites

Collaboration between New Zealand’s Victoria University of Wellington, particularly the Faculty of Engineering’s Robinson Research Institute, and Australia’s UNSW Canberra produced research that will accelerate the adoption of novel technology for use in satellites.

As reported, the collaboration recently received NZ$ 500,000 in funding from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s (MBIE) Catalyst Space fund.

About the Initiative

The project will focus on the use of superconducting magnets in satellites.

The leader of the project and Director of the Robinson Research Institute explained that the magnets will be used as they aim to create a light-weight and energy-efficient propulsion system to help satellites maintain or change orbit.

With this system, the satellites can use solar power to provide thrust, rather than carrying chemical propellants from Earth that they burn in space.

Moreover, these magnets can also potentially be used to protect satellites from radiation, capture space junk, and store energy, thereby, proving to be a very versatile technology.

In particular, scientists from Robinson Research Institute will be investigating the thermal management of cryogenic superconducting magnets.

They will be looking at the best way to use cryogenic technology in order to keep the superconducting magnets cold.

The magnets have to be kept cold, and it has to be done efficiently, otherwise, the energy efficiency benefits of this technology are negated. This is a crucial feature of this technology.

The magnet system needs to be carefully designed to make sure the energy needs of all parts of the satellite are met in an energy-efficient way.

Other parts of the satellite include the cryo-cooler and components such as sensors and communications.

Benefits

The collaboration will give Wellington scientists access to specialist design facilities at UNSW Canberra Space, which will help integrate the superconductor system design with the rest of the satellite.

Additionally, the project will allow the researchers to become proficient in using the Concurrent Design Facility at UNSW Canberra Space.

This facility allows for the integrated design of the space mission and spacecraft and will help build the design software needed to model the use of superconducting magnets in satellites.

Using this facility will also benefit UNSW Canberra Space as the design tools developed by the Robinson team will be incorporated into the facility, allowing for improved spacecraft and space mission design when using other components that are cryo-cooled.

Scientists from the Institute have a world-wide reputation for the development of superconducting devices for transportation, space, and energy applications.

This work will build on their existing experience and make sophisticated design tools available to the commercial partners.

It should greatly accelerate the adoption of advanced magnet technology in space applications such as propulsion, control systems, and radiation shielding.

UNSW Canberra Space Director Russell Boyce expressed delight in working with a leading group on magnet technology and using this technology in novel ways to improve satellite capabilities and boosting trans-Tasman space collaboration in the process.

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