An Out-Of-This-World Staging Solution For Space Centre And Mankind

Surrey Space Centre, a leading centre of excellence in space engineering, needed a special seamless surface for part of its latest work with solar sails.

The centre, which underpins the technical development of the space industry through advanced research programmes, is based at the University of Surrey in Guildford.

Work is currently progressing on a solar sail project, due to fly later this year, which will provide a green ‘propeller’ solution for spacecraft.

Chemical rockets are currently used to give spacecraft a quick boost into and then out of Earth orbit. The spacecraft then coasts most of the way to its destination, with some small blasts from thrusters to adjust its trajectory. This requires a lot of fuel.

Solar sails give a very low thrust, but they can work continuously, pushing spacecraft faster and faster. For a round trip solar sails have a great advantage since no fuel is needed for the return.

The sail is a very thin reflective membrane that, once in space, interacts with the sun, using solar radiation pressure and solar wind (in much the same way as a sailing boat uses the wind) to propel itself without the need for fuel.

The centre needed a special ‘table-like’ surface as a means of moving the sail, only the second of its kind, into position. They were initially unable to source something large enough for purpose which prompted them to seek out a staging solution.

They sourced several suppliers, including Mainstage, following an internet search. It was Mainstage’s understanding of the complex situation and their interpretation of the brief that landed them the job.

Mainstage provided the centre with a specially finished Topdeck Cameo stage solution. The one metre high, six metre by six metre stage, with adjustable legs, was then sanded down to provide a high quality, ‘glass-like’ seamless finish to prevent the delicate solar sail from snagging during deployment tests.

“We talked to Brian Henshall at Mainstage and he was very helpful and really understood what we wanted,” said Johnny Fernandez, a Research Fellow working with deployable space structures at the Surrey Space Centre.

“When the stage came, it was very easy to assemble and it took me and a colleague just a couple of hours to assemble in one of our large on-campus labs. Once we had set it up and levelled it using the adjustable legs we put on vinyl matting and a low friction Teflon coating.

“We actually have other projects that will require this sort of facility so it becomes multi-functional.

“Mainstage were really helpful from start to finish and we talked it all through with them. We would definitely recommend them.”