Enbio reaches for the stars with award-winning satellite thermal coating
12 January 2018
ENBIO Ltd and University College Dublin School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering receive the Technical Innovation of the Year Award, sponsored by NSAI for the development of SolarWhite, a new coating for high performance satellite thermal control.
In just over a year’s time, if everything goes according to plan, an Atlas V rocket will launch on a major mission to observe the sun, the most important source of energy for life on Earth. On board the rocket will be the SolO (Solar Orbiter) satellite, which will be deployed to observe the turbulent, sometimes violent, surface of our nearest star and study the changes that take place in the solar wind that flows outward at high speed.
By going within 45 million kilometres of the sun (a distance closer than the planet Mercury), the satellite faces severe temperature and radiation fluctuation, almost beyond compare. That is where Ireland’s very own ENBIO comes in.
Following a request from the European Space Agency (ESA), the Dublin-based manufacturer developed a special thermal coating for satellites called SolarWhite, which reduces the massive heat and radiation fluctuation experienced by satellites in harsh conditions, such as those found close to the sun. SolarWhite is currently undergoing extensive ageing tests at ESA’s technical centre in the Netherlands.
“The ESA had a very challenging problem where they needed a white coating to be able to withstand the very harsh rigours of sending it three-quarters of the way to the sun. It also needed to be conductive,” said Kevin O’Flynn, general manager at Enbio. “That was incredibly challenging and we’re very proud to say that we became the mission critical baseline coating! We are the choice for their white coating.
“SolarWhite itself came out of a collaboration between UCD’s School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering and ENBIO. The European Space Agency came to us, saying, ‘We love the black coating that you developed initially, but we’ve also got a need for a white coating. What can you do for us?’ So we started that concept development work in 2012. By 2016, we were coating the flight hardware.”
“It is an inorganic, non-porous, thermooptical coating for controlling the temperature of satellite radiator surfaces. The absorptive and emissive values are extremely stable at high and low temperatures and under harsh radiation. The coating is also electrically conductive, robust when handled, and easily cleaned. This combination of strengths makes it stand out amongst white thermal control coatings.”
Multiple awards for SolarWhite
Even before lift-off next year, SolarWhite has already hit new heights for the company. The product was named the Technical Innovation of the Year at the Engineers Ireland Excellence Awards on 10 November 10.
“We’re absolutely delighted. There were many great companies showcasing the diverse range of technical innovation going on in Ireland at the moment, so there was stiff competition,” said O’Flynn.
“From our perspective, it’s fantastic to see so many companies in Ireland interested in doing innovative product design. We were very fortunate to be selected as the winners. I think that’s a testament to how hard the ENBIO and UCD team worked on the product development of SolarWhite.
“The awards were a great opportunity for Engineers Ireland to showcase the space sector here. It’s growing quite significantly, with over 60 companies involved in space technology development. In terms of return on investment, for every euro the government puts in, there’s a direct return to the economy of €4, so it’s a really influential sector from that perspective.”
The Technical Innovation of the Year Award was sponsored by the National Standards Authority of Ireland (NSAI), which congratulated ENBIO on its win and wished the company continued success into the future. ENBIO is located in DCU’s Alpha Innovation Campus, close to NSAI.
“ENBIO and UCD are deserving winners of the Technical Innovation of the Year Award for this year of 2017,” said Enda McDonnell, head of standards at NSAI. “NSAI is delighted to sponsor this award for innovations that raise the bar and elevate the technical standards that NSAI is involved in agreeing. In particular, the Technical Innovation of the Year Award is due recognition for the development of this innovative coating, which sets new standards for high performance in a demanding environment.”
Showcasing the best of engineering
The 2017 Excellence Awards, which took place in the InterContinental Hotel in Dublin, also saw companies recognised for engineering projects, outstanding contribution to engineering and work relating to heritage and conservation.
“In Engineers Ireland, we’re delighted to showcase the achievements of some of the best engineering talent working in Ireland and overseas at our annual Excellence Awards,” said Caroline Spillane, director general of Engineers Ireland.
“The work celebrated at the awards ceremony embodies engineering excellence and ingenuity and reflects the evolving nature of contemporary engineering. I wish to extend my congratulations to the team at ENBIO Ltd and University College Dublin, School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering. Their project entry, the development of SolarWhite, is a most deserving winner of the Technical Innovation of the Year Award. This product showcases the highly innovative technological concepts that are currently being developed in this country and which contribute to projects worldwide.”
For ENBIO, following its award, the only way is up. Recently, the ESA awarded the company another contract valued at €650,000 to develop coatings for Neosat, Europe’s next-generation constellation of telecommunication satellites. For O’Flynn, the possibilities and knowledge arising from the SolO orbiter mission next year are just as exciting.
“The sun affects all life on Earth. Without it, there would be no life on Earth. By understanding it better, it allows us to more accurately model its effects on us. From plants and animals, to objects like telecommunications satellites, they are all affected by sun activities so better understanding improves our modern daily lives.”
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