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blog | Explore Space and Other Worlds with Kollmorgen’s Space-Worthy Motors |
2 minute read
Space Vehicles

While the commercialization of space using low Earth orbit satellites is entering a period of exponential growth, the deeper exploration of space with crewed and uncrewed spacecraft, orbiting stations and rockets transporting items to space, is undergoing a new renaissance.

Think, for example, of the Perseverance Rover now exploring the surface of Mars. The Space Launch System, more powerful than any rocket ever created and designed to carry crewed flights into deep space for the first time. The Artemis project that will return people to the moon with the goal of establishing a permanent presence for scientific discovery, development of commercial opportunities, and as preparation for human exploration of Mars and beyond.

These are just a few of the projects in progress or in actual operation today. The opportunities are exciting, but taking advantage of them requires solving significant challenges to keep people safe and ensure mission success.

Failure is not an option

One of the greatest challenges is ensuring the performance and reliability of motion systems that control many functions of a spacecraft, including subsystems for altitude and articulation, power generation, communication, observation, environmental control and life support, and many others. These motors are expected to perform flawlessly for an extended period of time — for some missions, more than 30 years — in the harshest known conditions.

Surface exploration vehicles (rovers), whether crewed or uncrewed, have additional motion requirements, including motors for traction and steering, control of robotic arms, camera positioning for navigation and hazard avoidance, sample collection, and many other specialized functions.

Crewed spacecraft, space stations and habitation facilities have even more complex and critical motion requirements for environmental control and life support subsystems, radiation protection, heat rejection, cryogenic cooling pumps, altitude control, mobility, torque tools and more.

Crewed and uncrewed space missions increasingly depend on robotic manufacture, assembly and service of equipment. Likewise, robots will be required for building future extraterrestrial habitation projects, mining extraterrestrial resources, maintaining equipment and so on.

With the many interdependencies between all of these systems and subsystems, the failure of a single motion system can jeopardize multiple elements of the mission and may require difficult, possibly dangerous repair. The challenges are great. When failure is not an option, choose motors that you can trust with confidence.

Challenges beyond this world

Extremes of shock and vibration are encountered at many points in the journey to space, including liftoff, attainment of Mach 1, rocket stage separation, thruster firings, dockings and landings. Motors must be able to withstand all of these events without damage to bearings, windings, connections, feedback devices or other components.

As important as rugged construction may be to avoid damage, space presents other hazards that pose an even greater threat to the health of motors and other components, especially when they are expected to perform reliably for years or even decades. Chief among these hazards are extremes of temperature, radiation and vacuum.

The baseline temperature of outer space is −270°C. From that floor, temperatures can rise to wildly varying levels depending on the particular environment. For example, temperatures on the lunar surface at the equator range from +120°C in the daytime to –130°C at night. Permanently shadowed regions near the poles can be as cold as –253°C, and these regions are of special interest because they may harbor water ice that can be used for drinking and to manufacture fuel.

Even with thermal management systems in place to mitigate these conditions, motors must still be able to perform in extreme temperatures and through rapid temperature cycles. Just as important, they should not contribute to thermal issues through excessive temperature rise that could reduce service life and damage other, nearby components.

The ionized particles of galactic cosmic rays and the electromagnetic radiation from solar events can be energetic enough to penetrate the exterior of spacecraft and harm the electronic and electromechanical systems within. In motors, the insulation, winding encapsulation and other components must be engineered with specialized materials that are highly resistant to degradation under this onslaught of radiation.

In the extreme high vacuum of space, outgassing from nonmetallic materials can be a major problem as volatile compounds condense and contaminate lenses, mirrors, sensors and other surfaces. Examples of materials that perform poorly in space include polyesters, Teflon, vinyl, nylon, silicone, natural rubber, butyl rubber, polystyrene and polyethylene, among others. Motors designed for use in space must eliminate the use of these materials or replace them with specialized materials that exhibit low desorption/outgassing rates.

Launch with Kollmorgen

Kollmorgen has been supplying motors designed for use in spaceflight since the Gemini program of the 1960s, continuing through the Skylab space station, Space Shuttles and today’s exponential growth in low Earth orbit satellites.

At the same time, our space-worthy motors have been pushing farther into space. They were on the Apollo missions to the moon, on the Viking 1 Mars lander, and on the Mars rovers Spirit, Opportunity, Curiosity and Perseverance. And our customers are planning to put our motors on many more missions as the renaissance of space exploration takes off.

Kollmorgen is the right partner for your space vehicles because we specialize in collaboratively engineering motors to suit the environment — no matter how extreme.

For space applications, we can offer solutions leveraging our KBM, TBM, and RBE frameless motor platforms that are suitable for use in environments of intense radiation. Motors can be engineered to meet NASA-STD-6016A outgassing requirements while performing in extremely high vacuum. They are available in designs with a very high ambient temperature range and low thermal rise. And best-in-class torque density minimizes size and weight — a crucial consideration for any space application.

Because modifications of our conventional motors to accommodate space applications are based on standard recipes, Kollmorgen can help reduce non-recurring engineering costs and lead times for motors that are designed to perform for years in the unrelenting conditions of space exploration and extraterrestrial habitation.

Ready to get started?

We’re ready to help get your space program off the ground and on to extraordinary feats. Contact us at your convenience. We’ll put you in touch with engineers who understand the requirements, have already put many reliable, high-performance motors into space, and are ready to help you launch a successful program.

Consult an Expert

Frameless Motors

Discover Kollmorgen's frameless motor range, designed for easy integration into your application, enhancing performance, efficiency and reliable motion solutions.
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Motors for Space

Learn about Kollmorgen motors for a range of space applications including low Earth orbit satellites, space vehicles and satellite ground stations.
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Engineer the Exceptional

Learn how to engineer exceptional machines, robots and vehicles with the highest-performing, most reliable motors, drives, automation solutions and more.

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