Mar 28, 2022

German Institute of Technical Physics uses Zemax to design a USB-powered nanosatellite thruster

Category: Product News

Simulation tools in OpticStudio optimize the innovative system to generate thrust with laser-ablative propulsion

The market for nanosatellites has gained momentum in recent years. Large satellites use a variety of methods for generating thrust, from the familiar chemical rocket thruster to more recent advances such as the Hall-effect thruster. But as satellites have become miniaturized, these methods have proven to be less practical, clearing the way for scientists to develop new kinds of thrust technology.

The German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt, or DLR) is Germany's national center for aerospace, energy, and transportation research. At the Institute of Technical Physics (ITP), an institute within DLR, scientists, engineers, and technicians design and conceive optical systems that help to advance scientific knowledge within the aerospace industry. In 2020, they prototyped a new technology for maneuvering miniature satellites. The project's goal was to show how it's possible to propel nanosatellites with laser ablative propulsion, which generates thrust by evaporating material with a focused laser beam.

Using Zemax, ITP conceived its design for laser-ablative propulsion and successfully demonstrated its viability under the strict requirements of satellite miniaturization. This story takes a look at what those limitations were, how ITP produced an optical system to overcome them, and the role OpticStudio played in helping them produce and perfect their design. For designing a crucial custom asphere for the prototype, ITP used the modeling functions in OpticStudio to experiment until finding the best possible result.

"We didn't know which properties would be best for getting a suitable tilt angle that would sufficiently protect the system," said Raoul Lorbeer, a research scientist at ITP who played a key role in the organization's thruster design. "We used a simulation toolchain that integrated directly with OpticStudio, so that we could perform all of the modeling we needed within the software, instead of conducting manual experiments."

Read the full story to learn more about how ITP refined its approach to laser ablative propulsion and proved its viability as a thrust technology for nanosatellites. And to learn more about OpticStudio, the industry standard for optical design software, try it for free!