AlphaBus in race to the market
Europe's first 12-18 kW telecommunications satellite platform, AlphaBus is intended to begin its Development Phase in December 2004. This follows the AlphaBus preparatory phase during which the level of co-operation between the ESA and French space agency CNES has been exemplary and represents the first step in a race to reach the market.
The Preparatory Phase began in 2002 with the initiation of over twenty projects. The results have been promising with each project having been designed to push the limits of technology, led by industry teams from a variety of European Member States. They are progressing well and will help secure the much-needed enabling technologies for AlphaBus.
Though the industrial team is led by an unprecedented alliance between the French companies Alcatel and Astrium, equipment providers spread around Europe and including Small to Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) also play an important role. Two competing projects by Jena-Optronik of Germany and Galileo Avionica of Italy are each working on an Active Pixel Sensor based Star Tracker predevelopment. This critical component will provide a cost advantage over current charge-coupled device (CCD) based star trackers.
Similarly, the Belgian company Euro Heat Pipes with a team of 20 engineers and technicians is developing new high capacity heat pipe technology. As part of the thermal regulation system, heat pipes are key elements of any spacecraft. Satellites based on an Alphabus platform may contain several hundred metres of heat pipes.
Added to this, a host of other preparatory projects will ensure European competitiveness in the coming decades. A new generation high power electric propulsion system is being conceived for efficient station keeping of AlphaBus satellites. A new 500 N apogee boost motor will not only benefit AlphaBus, but will be an important asset for European space projects. A fibre optic gyro will provide a strategic non-US source for this crucial technology.
Furthermore, a predevelopment is underway to take advantage of the new-generation of Li-Ion cells, which are more efficient and will improve the competitiveness of AlphaBus. Saab Ericsson Space of Sweden and EADS CASA Espacio of Spain are each involved in competing predevelopments to prepare the manufacturing technology for the central tube of the platform.
These are just a few examples of current predevelopments in the Preparatory Phase that involve companies from Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK; striving to become part of the AlphaBus consortium which will work together to benefit the European space programme and give Europe a competitive edge.
Jack Bosma, Head of The Large Platform Mission Office, wants AlphaBus to be a true European endeavour. "To realise a project of this scope, it will be necessary to build up an interdependent consortium that is going to be competitive and efficient in terms of industrial return. Participation from every ESA member state is very important."
The future is high power
The importance of AlphaBus for Europe is clear. Although well represented in the small and medium satellite markets, European satellite power ranges above this have been limited to Alcatel's Eurostar and Astrium's SpaceBus, both of which are restricted to 12kW. What this has meant is that between 1998 and 2003 the 4000 million Euro global market for high power satcom has been left entirely to US manufacturers.
The AlphaBus design surpasses the growth constraints of existing European platforms by providing up to 50% (to 18kW) additional payload power and increasing significantly payload mass capability and accommodation area.
With the expected retirement of 100 satellites between 2006 and 2011 and the trend towards increasingly greater mass and power the need for AlphaBus becomes apparent. AlphaBus is Europe's answer to satisfying the growing demand in the commercial Large Platform Market for the coming 15 years.