University of Sheffield AMRC engineers have been praised by Airbus Defence and Space bosses for their work on critical satellite components which helped “keep UK industry moving” during lockdown.
Kevin Clynes, who heads up Research and Process Technology Engineering for the Airbus division, said the complex machining operation on the base cone for its new satellite was done ‘during a very difficult time with speed, efficiency and accuracy’ by engineers from the Composite Centre at the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC).
“Despite the restrictions and challenges of the COVID-19 lockdown, it was crucial to Airbus Defence and Space to continue with operations,” he said.
“This was not only about keeping our business going but also about keeping our customers, partners and suppliers operating as well.
“When we contacted the AMRC, it was clear they wanted to assist us with this project to keep our business plan on schedule.
“This was very much appreciated and successfully demonstrated how we could work together, communicating remotely, to achieve this. The AMRC showed great effort and commitment to keep UK industry going during this challenging time.”
This work forms the latter stages of two years of research collaborations between Airbus Defence and Space and the AMRC that initiated the establishment of a method to machine aluminium honeycomb with composite skins with zero defects.
The cone is a key component of the Eurostar Neo, a new high-performance communication satellite developed by Airbus Defence and Space that combines increased payload capacity, more efficient power and thermal control systems with faster production time and reduced cost.
Due for launch in 2021, the cone forms the central structure and base of the service module of the satellite, which houses the propulsion tank. It is made from aluminium honeycomb, which is sandwiched between an inner and outer skin made of carbon fibre reinforced polymer (CFRP).
The cone project is the culmination of two years of ‘small steps’ of incremental research and development carried out by the AMRC for Airbus Defence and Space in which various-scaled cones were machined using a newly established machining process developed for Airbus Defence and Space as part of its manufacturing development programme.
“We got the order for the cone before COVID; it was a critical project for us to complete and to help the industry keep moving during lockdown,” said John Halfpenny, technical lead at the AMRC Composite Centre.
“We knew that if this wasn’t machined on time it could have delayed the final assembly process. The satellite is due to launch in 2021 – slots for launches like this are booked years in advance, so we knew there were deadlines to meet.
“That’s why, as an organisation, we were determined to deliver and make sure we could complete the machining to keep Airbus on schedule.”