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Modern satellite structures

Space missions have always been the driver of innovation in the development of new technologies due to the exceptionally high requirements placed by the conditions in space. These are the result of radiation influences, high variations in temperature, and the risk of collisions with meteoroids or space debris. Global commercialization of space (New Space) involves additional challenges such as high development speeds and the demand for lower costs.

Lightweight designs, materials and resilience are key research topics in the field of modern satellite structures. As part of our development and testing efforts in the research field, a substantial contribution for the further progress of spacecraft structures shall be achieved.

  • Integration of mechanical metamaterials and of active control concepts into optical benches for high-performance instruments
  • Additive manufacturing for space technology applications
  • Structural Event Monitoring System (SEM) for in-orbit detection of singular events (collisions with micrometeoroids and space debris)
  • New approaches for shielding cosmic radiation by integrating functional layers into load-bearing satellite structures
  • Integration of functional layers in a linerless, carbon-fiber-reinforced fuel tank to guarantee that the structure is leak-proof and burns up completely on re-entering the earth’s atmosphere

Suitable experiments are being developed for the SeRANIS satellite ATHENE1 and verified in orbit. Due to their high technological maturity level at the end of the mission and having been tested in space, the technologies will be available for application in future missions.

Core objectives and unique feature

Mechanical metamaterials have a specially designed mesostructure with which specific required macroscopic material properties (e.g. heat expansion or heat conductivity) can be created. In this way, materials can also be functionalized (smart structures), thus enabling structural actuators and control concepts to be implemented.

As part of the SeRANIS mission, both approaches – mechanical metamaterials and structural control concepts – will be combined in order to enhance the performance of space technology optical benches.

Attempts to develop additive manufacturing technologies to produce metallic multimaterial structures have only been undertaken in recent years, which means that they have only become established in a few laboratories throughout the world. The production of metamaterials with negative heat expansion coefficients represents a technical breakthrough.

The purpose of the Structural Event Monitoring System is to test new algorithms that make it possible to detect events such as collisions with micrometeoroids. The algorithms work on the basis of vibration data that are measured by means of different types of sensors. Analysis of the data makes it possible to assess the structural integrity of the platform while it is in orbit. As part of cooperation with other research establishments, measurement data is provided in order to actively accelerate the development work carried out on health monitoring systems of space flight structures on the basis of the SeRANIS mission.

The main goal of the radiation protection experiment is improved shielding of harmful cosmic radiation so as to provide better protection for the electronic components. The new shielding material in combination with the mission profile also has the advantage that it will in future be possible to use lighter satellite structures and economical and more powerful COTS hardware.

The aim of developing the linerless carbon-fiber-reinforced satellite fuel tank is to save weight and to achieve a higher level of volumetric efficiency by doing without the conventional metallic liner. A further objective is to ensure that the entire structure of the tank is able to burn up completely when re-entering the earth’s atmosphere.

Participating institutes

Institute for Lightweight Construction
Institute of Materials Science
Professorship for Composite Materials and Engineering Mechanics


Univ.-Prof. Dr.-Ing. Philipp Höfer
Univ.-Prof. Dr. rer. nat. Eric A. Jägle
Prof. Dr.-Ing. Tobias Dickhut