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New valve for greener space missions

Satellite orbiting the earth

A new patented space valve developed by OU scientists which is compatible with cleaner and greener water-based alternatives to fuel satellites, has been taken up by industry.

Added Value Solutions (AVS) Ltd, a world-leading designer and developer of bespoke equipment for large science and research infrastructure, has signed up to the national SPRINT business support programme to develop new valve technology for water-based satellite propulsion systems. AVS will work collaboratively with SPRINT partner, The Open University, on a project that will focus on delivering cleaner and greener alternatives to chemical propulsion systems for satellites, using water.

Technology derived from landing on a comet

AVS is based on the Harwell Campus in Oxfordshire. The company has carried out an extensive market survey across UK and international suppliers and has not identified any other valves on the market that are as well matched to the key requirements of this application such as working with high pressure gases and low leak rates. The Open University has a patented valve technology, derived from the lessons learnt from Ptolemy on the Rosetta comet mission, which will be used as a basis for designing a modified valve suitable for this specific application, as part of AVS family of water propulsion system for satellites.

Significant cost savings for satellite manufacturers

The use of water instead of hydrazine will provide significant cost savings for satellite manufacturers due to the lowering of the risk during fuelling, the potential extension of the lifetime of the satellite and reduced impact of the terrestrial environment.  AVS will provide the specifications to commercialise this new valve as part of the company’s larger family of thrusters that will enhance new mission and service opportunities across a multiple and modular range of satellites.

The project will be funded by a grant from the £4.8 million SPRINT (SPace Research and Innovation Network for Technology) programme that provides unprecedented access to university space expertise and facilities. SPRINT helps businesses through the commercial exploitation of space data and technologies.

Alberto Garbayo, Business Development Director at AVS UK said: “AVS is developing disruptive water propulsion technology in space but required specific valves, not currently available in the market. However, we would need to be able to test the valves under high pressure to ensure that they work before we can commercialise the technology.

“Space is our main focus of activity; we have a very strong research-based space technology team in the UK and 100% of our R&D resource is committed to the market. We’ve previously collaborated in space missions and astronomy projects with The Open University. Now, through the SPRINT programme, we’re looking forward to strengthening our collaboration to develop the new generation of valves.”

Extending the lifetime of satellites

Dr Geraint (Taff) Morgan from the School of Physical Sciences at The Open University added: “During the Rosetta space mission, the OU utilised valve technology for high pressure gas to help with storage and propulsion. The university subsequently developed its own version and patented the valve technology to be used for space and terrestrial applications.

“The OU valve is not designed for the AVS application so we have to convert the design to AVS’ requirements and that’s where the SPRINT funding will support the research, design, testing and manufacture elements of the project. This will enable us to jointly develop this new technology and change the way that satellites are propelled, extending the lifetime and reducing costs of satellites as well as making them greener and safer to fuel.”

Hear what Dr Geraint Morgan and Dr Simon Sheridan have to say about how the valve works:

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