Phytron Space Engines Power the Cameras of the DAWN Space Probe


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The final frontier Space flight of the 21st century has not even left our solar system and already fills the people with wonder, through stunning images and data. Step by step, the extreme environment of space is being conquered in ambitious scientific missions such as DAWN. The space probe DAWN has been on a journey through our solar system since 2007, exploring the asteroid Vesta and the dwarf planet Ceres. The fact that DAWN is still sending high-resolution pictures to Earth even after eight years in space is owed to the developers of the two framing cameras.

The staff of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS) led the development and cooperated with the German Centre for Aviation and Astronautics (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt, DLR), and the Institute for Data and Communications Networks (IDA, TU Braunschweig). They counted on high-quality, space-suitable components. In addition to the electronics this applies especially to mechanical elements and electric drives, which need to work reliably even after subjection to extreme vibration during the rocket launch and large temperature fluctuations.

VSS space precision stepper motors by the company Phytron (diameter 25, 200-step) adjust the filter wheels of two onboard cameras and drive the spindle-driven mechanism of the flap that protects the sensitive camera lens from dirt and damage. The Phytron VSS motors, originally optimized for vacuum use, provide the basis for space-qualified VSS space designs. A variety of modifications protect the motor from vibrational loads during rocket launch. Materials and tests are extensively documented.

The proven vacuum suitable VSS space motors that are utilized in more than 300 different applications and instruments in space by now (ROSETTA, CURIOSITY, MAVEN, etc.), have now been further developed exclusively in the space-optimized series - phySPACE. The new phySPACE stepper motors by Phytron are resistant to vacuums, vibration, extreme temperatures, and radiation.

"With phySPACE, we have standardized the space-suitable precision stepper motor. Several basic variations form a solid, cost-effective foundation for space applications of all kinds. For requirements that deviate from the standard, small adjustments have already proved to be sufficient", said Alexander Hatzold, head of product strategy at Phytron.

Space-suitable characteristics of phySPACE

  • Duplex ball bearings increase durability and life-span
  • Clean, resistant insulation materials, special vacuum grease, and adhesives: ECSS Q-70-02A certified, maximum TML (total mass loss) of 1%, and CVCM (volatile mass losses) less than 0.1%
  • Radiation-resistant construction for radiation exposure of up to 106 J/kg
  • Weight-optimized design, "light weight" upgrade available as a titanium version
  • Basic tests and documentation are already included and can be completed depending on the application requirements

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