Mier-Hicks: his simulator enables testing of nanosatellites. Mier-Hicks: a simulator for nanosatellites.

Engineer’s invention tests nanosatellites

Simulator replicates conditions in space to test miniature satellites

A Mexican engineer doing research in the United States has devised a groundbreaking machine that simulates the conditions nanosatellites experience while in orbit around the Earth.

Fernando Mier-Hicks, a graduate in mechatronic engineering from the Monterrey Institute of Technology (ITESM), went on to obtain a doctorate in space engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

“What the machine does is basically simulate the three main conditions of space,” namely vacuum, absence of friction and a plasma environment, said Mier-Hicks, who in 2006 was chosen as one of the Innovators Under 35 in Mexico by the MIT Technology Review.

nano”We obviously don’t have these aspects here on Earth, so I had to invent an instrument, a machine that replicated them.”

The interest in equipment that produces those conditions stems from the need to test nanosatellites before their deployment.

The engineer told the Conacyt news service that he simulated the first of those conditions by using a vacuum chamber. The second, absence of friction, he attained by making the model nanosatellite levitate inside the chamber through magnetism.

The third condition, a plasma environment, was recreated using a plasma generator. “When you turn it on, the nanosatellite is exposed to conditions similar to those of space,” said Mier-Hicks.

His research began five years ago, “basically on the first day of my master’s degree course,” he said, after his supervisor at MIT posited the need to recreate space conditions.

Before the simulator was developed all nanosatellite evaluations were performed mathematically at MIT, a process that lacked certainty over the miniature satellite’s effectiveness in actual conditions.

“When this machine started working we began receiving lots of information about the behavior of these nanosatellites, particularly in regard to propulsion,” said Mier-Hicks, who is currently working at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Thanks to the trove of data produced by the simulator Mier-Hicks is developing a new propulsion system. It has also resulted in advances in design: the size of the nanosatellites has been reduced by up to 30%, allowing the launch rockets to carry an even larger payload.

Source: Milenio (sp)

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