Demand growing for managing heat on increasingly intricate satellites

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TAMPA, Fla. — Increasingly capable satellites are driving demand for more complex thermal management solutions to keep them from overheating as they work harder, according to heat pipe manufacturer Advanced Cooling Technologies (ACT).

The growing need for more onboard computing power to deliver larger volumes of data — from smaller satellites — creates new challenges for dissipating heat across a spacecraft.

Satellite manufacturers looking to advance their capabilities are increasingly running into a “thermal bottleneck,” according to Adam Say, international business development manager for Lancaster, Pennsylvania-based ACT.

ACT develops and produces space-grade hardware for managing thermal conditions on satellites, and has been investing in international sales and marketing teams to capture what it sees as a global trend.

“Over the last few years, we have seen a significant increase in demand from international space market customers and space agencies, outside of our standard U.S. customer portfolio,” said Say, who joined the company two years ago as part of its international push.

ACT recently shipped its first batch of thermal management hardware to the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), India’s space agency, as part of a $2 million contract representing its biggest export deal since its founding in 2003.

The contract covers hundreds of constant conductance heat pipes (CCHPs), which transfer waste heat from onboard electronics to heat rejection surfaces along a satellite’s architecture.

ISRO plans to use the CCHPs for India’s next generation of high throughput communication satellites.

“We are finding that international space agencies like ISRO and other spacecraft customers are experiencing an increasing level of complex thermal challenges and they are contacting our expert team of thermal engineers to find solutions,” Say added.

The CCHPs ACT shipped to U R Rao Satellite Centre, formerly ISRO Satellite Centre where ISRO builds its satellites, use extruded aluminum pipes that are filled with ammonia. 

As the trend toward smaller, higher throughput satellites continues to grow, ACT has also been investing in next-generation Space Copper Water Heat Pipes to meet future needs.

“These products are specifically designed to manage higher and much more concentrated higher heat loads, often related to in situ computing,” Say said.

“Although they have less flight heritage compared to CCHPs, ACT’s Space Copper Water Heat Pipes can handle up to 50 W/cm2, which is well above the heat flux capacities of traditional CCHP products.”

BAE Systems, which recently acquired In-Space Missions to enhance its abilities to develop small satellites, is an early adopter of ACT’s Space Copper Water Heat Pipes and has procured them for its computing modules.