Industry Market Trends

Trickle-Down from Nanosats Will Ignite Commercial, Civilian Technologies

Jun 19, 2014

Like space-related technological progressions that came before them, nanosatellites could bring a sea change to communications, navigation, etc. Chances are, they will also drive new materials and power sources that will create unprecedented civilian and commercial products.

When the United States was thrust into the Space Race with the Soviet Union in the late 1950s, the sudden focus on space travel jump-started many technological developments. As NASA worked to be the frontrunner on outer space exploration, the billions of dollars of investment benefitted more than just the space industry.

High-temperature ceramics, made for safely rocketing through Earth's atmosphere, resulted in greater capabilities in thermal insulation. New focus on aerodynamics transferred to better-performing, more-efficient car designs. Satellite technology made GPS navigation possible. The incredible amount of work that went into developing smaller and faster computer processing power is still having profound impacts on modern culture. Altogether, these advances rose out of space exploration and eventually benefited an unprecedented range of industries.

Right now, a new leading-edge development in satellite technology is likely to fuel many more unforeseen but game-changing technologies and materials. Nanosatellites, or nanosats, are substantially smaller satellite units than traditional systems. A conventional satellite is about the size and weight of a midsize car, making it quite inefficient to launch into space. Nanosats sidestep this problem, with some being no larger than a coffee mug (see top photo).

Cutting satellite weight and volume not only makes nanosats easier to launch, it makes them far less expensive to plan and build. With a huge cost differential, nanosats are slowly making satellite instrumentation and communication increasingly more accessible.

The unique form factor of nanosats is likely to create new, unprecedented evolutions out of need in multiple arenas. Due to their size and the extraterrestrial environment in which they operate, nanosats obviously require materials that are strong, lightweight, UV resistant, and readily able to deal with wide temperature ranges. These requirements quickly fence out many materials -- many plastics, for instance, would break down quickly when exposed to unfiltered ultraviolet radiation. Many high-strength alloys, while able to survive in space, don't have the needed strength-to-weight ratios.

Nanosats will also likely create a need for higher-performing insulators, as the insulating advantages held by larger satellites will be absent. Like newer building materials, these materials will have to be light and UV resistant, as they would likely form an outer insulating coating on all exterior surfaces and solar arrays. Finally, nanosats will likely create a need for higher-efficiency battery units for storing solar power.

Once these new technologies are developed, big changes can be expected outside of nanosats. One area worth examining is residential and commercial heating and cooling, where there is plenty of room for technological and performance improvements. New insulation technologies, trickled down from nanosat development, will likely make HVAC ducts, hot water pipes, window frames, refrigeration systems, and other systems considerably more efficient. Lightweight materials, especially those that respond well to radical thermal stresses, will allow for ducting, framework, and insulation substrates that require less bracing and support.

High-efficiency battery units will likely have the broadest impact, creating fan coils, electric heating elements, vent controls, remote temperature sensors, and other components that can run in spite of local or regional power failures and allow necessary air-conditioning of mission-critical systems to continue unabated.

Consumer products have traditionally benefited the most from space-related technological progression, with the creation of all-new devices and improvements on existing ones. The field of portable heating technologies, in particular, is likely to gain even more from the advances nanosats bring -- specialists like Pelonis Technologies are already paying attention, in anticipation of some great upgrades.

Portable heating units, taking advantage of new materials, insulators, and battery technologies, are likely to become smaller, more efficient, and cordless. The output power of an ordinary room heater may soon be available in a package that really is portable, and twice as efficient if not more. It is likely that this market segment, which has changed little over the past decade, will soon be substantially reinvented as nanosat-related advances trickle down into the consumer sphere.

Top photo credit: NASA

Sam Pelonis is president of Pelonis Technologies, a leading manufacturer of axial AC and brushless DC fans and motors specializing in high technology and original equipment manufacturing (OEM) solutions, based in Exton, Penn. With over 25 years of product development and manufacturing experience, Pelonis Technologies' customers come from a variety of markets, including medical equipment, aerospace and defense, heating and air-conditioning, automotive, and appliances.