Spacecraft often wear out the wires and cables connecting solar array drives because of the rotating parts that separate them from the main body of the craft.
The University of Bangor has solved the problem and hopes to make spacecraft last longer by using basic techniques of electrical engineering.
Developed by Industrial Development Bangor (IDB), a company spun off from the department of electrical engineering and computer systems, spacecraft built by the European Space Agency in the future could use contactless power transfer.
The Contactless Transfer Device uses capacitors to send data signals. Capacitors conventionally use the earth’s electrical field to send signals without contact.
It uses transformers with its primary windings on one side of the gap between two sections of the spacecraft and the secondary windings on the other to transfer electrical power
The windings on IDB’s device are made from ferrite cores wound with copper wire. The secondary section spins very quickly inside the primary section and generates a magnetic field, allowing 250W of power to be transmitted without contact.
Separately, the capacitor is made of four copper tracks placed in a circular fashion next to the transformers and allows data to be passed in both directions at up to 5Mbit/s.
The device is likely to be used in instruments with rotating parts rather than solar array panels because of its 5% energy loss. But it will increase the standard number of rotations from one million to 100 million.
IDB is looking for commercial applications while it waits for further ESA development money.