Smart fuel tank made in Surrey heading for the International Space Station
The astronauts of the future won't need to wait for the fuel light to come on before they know their tanks are running low – thanks to a new system from UK company Atout Process Ltd that can accurately measure how full a tank is in zero gravity.
“We’re confident that SMARTTS can report, in real-time, accurate measurements of fuel, even in space. Thanks to ESA, we’ll now get the chance to prove it in orbit through experiments on the International Space Station. It’s essential new technology for proposed new space industries and will enable measurable in-orbit refuelling.”Andrew Hunt, Chief Executive at Atout
Car fuel gauges rely on gravity, but that doesn't work in space. Atout’s technology uses electrical capacitance tomography sensors to measure the mass of liquid in a tank, show where it is and how it is moving, and to calculate the resulting forces on the vehicle. SMARTTS solve many of the longstanding problems of measuring propellant in space vessels in zero gravity.
To build the prototype SMARTTS system, Atout will enlist the help of space engineers at Surrey Space Centre, part of the University of Surrey, and use the specialist facilities there. This is part of Surrey's UKSA-funded SpaceCraft programme.
“With their SMARTTS, Atout have a fantastic product and we’re helping them demonstrate its value. We have built many instruments to go to space so we’re well placed to advise them and have the specialist equipment and facilities they’ll need, like clean rooms and machines to check SMARTTS can withstand the stresses of launch and the harsh conditions of space.Professor Keith Ryden, Head of Surrey Space Centre, Professor in Space Engineering
“Gauges like those used in cars don’t work in zero gravity, so alternative techniques are used in space which rely on estimates and calculations. However, errors can accumulate and there’s no real-time information, so mission designers have to factor in extra reserves of fuel, with significant associated costs. SMARTTS could be a real game-changer in the space sector, saving money and opening doors to new industries, and we’re keen to see how they operate in orbit.”
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