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µFCU General Project Information

Start date: 2011-12-01
End date: 2013-09-30
Duration: 22 months
Project Reference: 284100
Project cost: 2074753  EURO
Project Funding: 1428212  EURO

µFCU Coordinator

Dr. Hans-Peter Harmann (AST ADVANCED SPACE TECHNOLOGIES GMBH)

µFCU Consortium:

  • AST ADVANCED SPACE TECHNOLOGIES GMBH
  • INNOVATIVE SENSOR TECHNOLOGY AG
  • STAIGER GMBH & CO KG
  • RHP-TECHNOLOGY GMBH & CO KG
  • TRANSMIT GESELLSCHAFT FUER TECHNOLOGIETRANSFER MBH

µFCU Objective

"µFCU" is a project funded under the European Commission's FP7 program. The purpose of is the development of a miniaturized flow control unit for noble gases like xenon. It addresses a technology that is relevant for Europe's non-dependence in space and that was enlisted in the Urgent Action List of EC, ESA and EDA.

The miniaturized flow control unit enables electric micropropulsion systems for new mission classes.

The μFCU design is based on a component-of-the-shelf (COTS) approach. The core components and technologies have already been developed for ground applications. They have a high reliability background like medicine, chemical industry or even space. These components will be modified for space applications and for the changed operational and environmental parameter range.

This new development shall outperform existing technologies with respect to mass reduction, leak tightness, drift and long term stability. Furthermore, it shall reduce complexity, driver electronics requirements and AIT effort and therefore will reduce cost. Further cost reduction shall be achieved by modularity, use of COTS and integration of for flow lines controllers into one device.

The µFCU will be design for two flow ranges. One scientific micropropulsion mission with a full scale flow range of 0.1 sccm Xe, the second for commercial satellites with a flow range of up to 100 sccm. Both designs shall weight less than 100 grams for two controlled flows.

The design of the µFCU is driven by costumer requirements. Key customer agreed to support the project by defining reference missions and by reviewing the design.

The Consortium has a strong participation of SMEs, some with first experiences in space business others with long term involvement in space component and subsystem development.

The project shall include a prequalification test campaign to demonstrate the operation together with a thruster and to verify the key requirements.

Reporting Period 01.12.2011 - 31.05.2012

In the first half year of the μFCU project the major objectives have been fulfilled with good success.

The primary objective, to reduce the Europe's dependency in space by using only European sourcedcomponents, has fully been achieved.

The second priority, to develop a high performance and low mass flow control unit, has also been fulfilled.

The actual baseline design of the μFCU has a mass below 90g for two controlled flow lines using stainless steel components. A further mass reduction might be possible by using lighter material like titanium, if the required joining technologies become available within the related work package.

The valves used for the μFCU show a good performance over an extended temperature range from -40°C to +110°C. The project had the goal to combine an available ultra leak tight valve technology with the fast chopping and robust valves used for the μFCU design. A lot of 30 valves with three different seal materials has been produced and a test to investigate the wear and aging of the seal materials has been started within this reporting period. The initial leakage showed an impressively low value of below 10-9 scc/s GHe at room temperature. For the best material the leakage was still at this level after more than 50 million pressurized switching cycles and after several full temperature swings.

First optimization steps have been done to further improve the performance of the integrated flow sensor.

A focus has been put on the development of joining and assembly technologies that are required to combine different materials and to integrate tiny components into the μFCU assembly.

The project has mostly recovered from slight delays due to the start date in December. μFCU is on a good track and will enter the Engineer Model Phase within Q3/2012.