The Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST) and the established Luxembourg company Gradel are joining forces by opening a joint Luxembourg Lab to research and produce ultra-lightweight structures for the aeronautics and space industry. Parts will be produced for three European giants in satellite construction; Thales Alenia Space (France), Airbus Defence and Space (France), and OHB (Germany). This project holds great promises for the space sector and beyond, with potential applications in the automotive and aeronautic world.
What is this special ultra-lightweight structure, and what makes it special and unique to Luxembourg research?
In the domain of space and satellites, weight is expensive. The heavier a product for transport into space is, the more it costs. In fact, the current estimate is costs of around €5,000-10,000 per kilogram, meaning that any weight loss is beneficial financially for companies sending satellites into space.
The LIST/Gradel joint effort aims to produce very tough, yet ultra-lightweight structures using continuous carbon-fiber-reinforced-polymers (CFRP) in a filament winding process creating ultralight 3D structures. The carbon fiber is coated with a polymer that solidifies the entire object rendering it extremely solid and resilient. Impregnated carbon fibers are wound to form an optimized 3D-mesh design that gives the part its special mechanical properties.
The joint lab, hosted in LIST’s new premises in Hautcharage, will focus on two projects, known as “xFKin3D” (the name of the technology) and “Robotised xFKin3D”.
While the first one consists of making parts by hand with the filament weaving manually and will target the demonstration space-use standards of structural parts produced by the xFKin3D technology, the second one aims at producing the same parts, but with the use of a new robotic arm recently installed at LIST. This will make it a fully automated manufacturing process, assuring excellent repeatability, to the same strength and quality, but on a larger, industrial scale.
Both projects are supported by the Luxembourg National Space Program LuxIMPULSE, which aims at providing funding to help companies established in Luxembourg to bring innovative ideas to the market. The program is managed by the Luxembourg Space Agency (LSA) together with the European Space Agency (ESA).
Disruptive technology with potential applications in the space field, and beyond
Light-weighting is a popular topic in today’s world and becoming more and more important in many areas of production, notably in the automotive and aeronautic world. The heavier a car is, the more it consumes. If you manage to halve the weight of a vehicle, you halve the energy necessary to move it. This technology is currently being applied to space technologies but could also be beneficial for aircraft and automobile industries in the future.
GRADEL’s Managing Director, Claude Maack stated, “GRADEL began working with Ultra Lightweight structures in the space sector in 2018 by signing an exclusivity contract with AMC GmbH which developed xFK in 3D first in the Automotive sector. Now with LIST we have a strong partner with deep knowledge in material and process of composite structures allowing us further qualification for Space applications. Supported by LSA, this innovative process technology will enable GRADEL to continue its success story in the Space sector and beyond with a full automated manufacturing process”.