MEMS may improve efficiency of space-based solar collectors

Tiny microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) may be the key to maintaining giant space-based structures, such as solar collectors, according to researchers Steve Tung and Larry Roe at the University of Arkansas (Fayetteville). Although such space-based solar collectors could be many square miles in size, tiny MEMS devices could help keep them oriented correctly to ensure their long-term operation. Tung, Roe, and graduate student Scott Witherspoon are working with David Maynard of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA's program manager for space solar power, to examine the potential benefits of MEMS in such space-based applications.

"It can cost from $5000 to $50,000 per pound to put an object into space," says Roe, associate professor of mechanical engineering. "Because inflatable structures minimize mass and volume, they are far less expensive and will become increasingly important in near-term and future space missions." An inflatable structure can be folded and compressed to the size of a desk, and then, when inflated, become a solar collector 1-mile wide. However, such a large structure is subject to radiation damage and puncture from micrometeoriods. The structure could also drift and turn away slightly from its original orientation. For this reason, constant monitoring is necessary to ensure the continued integrity and long-term performance of the structure.

That is where Tung, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, comes in. He has developed a flexible MEMS device that can be integrated into the fabric of an inflatable structure. Although it is less than 1 inch (2.5 cm) long, it can monitor both local conditions such as strain or vibration and global conditions such as motion of the system. "Traditional sensor modules are heavy, rigid and expensive," Tung adds. "But a sensor module for an inflatable structure must be low mass and flexible. Just as important, it must be simple to install and of low cost."

Tung and Roe report that they also plant to incorporate actuators into their MEMS device that will allow it to take corrective action when it locates a problem.

Most Popular Articles


Femtosecond Lasers – Getting the Photons to the Work Area

Ultrashort-pulse lasers, both picosecond and femtosecond, are now available from a large number of manufacturers, with new players entering the field at a ra...

Ray Optics Simulations with COMSOL Multiphysics

The Ray Optics Module can be used to simulate electromagnetic wave propagation when the wavelength is much smaller than the smallest geometric entity in the ...

Multichannel Spectroscopy: Technology and Applications

This webcast, sponsored by Hamamatsu, highlights some of the photonic technology used in spectroscopy, and the resulting applications.

Handheld Spectrometers

Spectroscopy is a powerful and versatile tool that traditionally often required a large and bulky instrument. The combination of compact optics and modern pa...

Opportunities in the Mid-IR

The technology for exploiting the mid-IR is developing rapidly:  it includes quantum-cascade lasers and other sources, spectroscopic instruments of many...
White Papers

NIST Traceable Spectral Responsivity Calibration of Photodiode Detectors

All Newport optical detectors are recommended for a 12 month recalibration interval. Newport main...

Accurate LED Source Modeling Using TracePro

Modern optical modeling programs allow product design engineers to create, analyze, and optimize ...

Miniature Spectrometers for Narrowband Laser Characterization

In less than 60 years, lasers have transformed from the imagined “ray gun” of science fiction int...
Technical Digests

OPTICAL COATINGS: Evolving technology produces new benefits

The antireflection, high-reflection, and/or spectral characteristics provided by optical coatings...

REMOTE FIBER-OPTIC SENSING: Data in abundance from difficult environments

The use of optical fibers to measure strain, temperature, and other parameters at desired points ...

SCANNERS FOR MATERIALS PROCESSING: Serving demanding applications

Galvanometer-based scanners are an essential component in laser-based materials-processing system...

Click here to have your products listed in the Laser Focus World Buyers Guide.


SCHOTT and Applied Microarrays Establish Distribution Partnership for NEXTERION® Products

01/22/2013 SCHOTT and Applied Microarrays, Inc. have established a partnership for the distribution of SCHOT...

SCHOTT North America and Space Photonics, Inc. Sign Exclusive Licensing Agreement for Covert Communications Technology

01/22/2013 WASHINGTON, D.C.—October 18, 2012—Space Photonics Inc. and SCHOTT North America, Inc. today annou...
Social Activity
Copyright © 2007-2015. PennWell Corporation, Tulsa, OK. All Rights Reserved.PRIVACY POLICY | TERMS AND CONDITIONS