Manchester’s SmartIR Signs Contract with European Space Agency

SmartIR, a spinout company from the University of Manchester, has signed a contract with the European Space Agency Business Incubation Centre United Kingdom (ESA BIC UK) to support their work to develop solutions to control thermal radiation on demand.

There is a need, within the space sector, to provide cost-effective thermal management solutions to both low orbit satellites, where the use of heaters reflects in higher power consumptions and to long orbit satellites, where heavy and bulky solutions (i.e. thermal Louvres) are currently adopted.  SmartIR offers a paradigm-changing technology which will enable satellites to flexibly manage thermal energy, venting heat fully from all surfaces when in Earth’s shadow then selectively shielding only the side closest to the sun during orbit. 

Prof Coskun Kocabas, SmartIR’s Scientific Director, said: “Small satellites experience thermal gradients across their structures of up to 200 C between sun-facing and earth-facing aspects and thermal control systems are designed to maintain them within acceptable temperature conditions. SmartIR’s radiators are an ideal solution as they are lightweight, have low power consumption, respond swiftly, operate over the entire infrared spectrum and involve no moving parts.”

SmartIR was formed with help from the University of Manchester Innovation Factory by Prof Kocabas, expert in optical properties of graphene, Dr Margherita Sepioni, who has eight years’ experience in commercializing graphene into early-stage businesses and Paul Kahn, former CEO of Airbus Group UK. SmartIR was incorporated in early 2020, with the help from the University of Manchester Innovation Factory, with the current primary focus on product development and testing validation to meet the space requirements.

SmartIR has joined the ESA BIC UK at STFC’s Daresbury Laboratory and received a £43K incentive to test their technology in space. The programme includes access to business and technical support, as well as access to science and innovation campuses, including Sci-Tech Daresbury where the company will have an office. SmartIR will also have access to the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s space facilities, under the supervision of Thales Alenia Space.

A spokesperson from Thales Alenia Space, said: “Our spacecraft are traditionally designed ‘cold biased’ with electric heaters used to ensure the equipment is kept above its minimum temperature. Using a variable emissivity graphene-based thermal radiator could allow us to reduce its radiative capacity in the cold scenarios and, in that way, save significant power. The SmartIR materials could help us achieve this objective using a technology that is robust and easy to control.”

Paul Kahn, Cofounder, said: “I am delighted to see the potential of this exciting University of Manchester spinout recognised by the European Space Agency and the Science and Technology Facilities Council.  Space is one of many opportunities to apply adaptive emissivity graphene technology to make a step change in performance and capability for complete systems and even platforms. Our technology will create a massive reduction in satellite power consumption …a truly game-changing opportunity.”

Dr Margherita Sepioni, SmartIR’s COO, said: “SmartIR is aiming to becoming a qualified supplier of thermal management solutions for the space market, and this agreement with ESA BIC UK is a very important landmark along our journey.  We are looking for further investments and collaborations to ensure we can revolutionise the area of thermal management solutions, in a wide range of applications, and look forward to exploring growth opportunities with visionary organisations.”

The ESA Business Incubation Centre United Kingdom (ESA BIC UK) provides the support and funding that start-up companies need to turn their ideas into profitable products and services using space technology, or to develop technologies for use in space. The ESA BIC UK is managed and partly funded by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), in collaboration with ESA Space Solutions, the University of Leicester and the UK Space Agency.

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Photo credit: Thales Alenia Space