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ESAComp software used to design Solar Orbiter

In the first of a series of reports from the Altair European Technology Conference 2014, Robert Roe discovers how ESAComp software is being used to design the European Space Agency's Solar Orbiter, due for launch in 2017.

Solar Orbiter is intended to produce images of the Sun at an unprecedented resolution and perform the closest-ever measurements of local, near-Sun phenomena. The vehicle needs to be strong enough and big enough to house the required instrumentation, but it also needs to be made of a lightweight material so as to save on fuel at launch.

Composite materials offer the best compromise between strength and weight, and this is where the ESAComp software can be used. The European Space Agency (ESA) started developing the software in the early 1990s. The goal was to create a standardised tool to replace the various in-house codes used by the aerospace industry for the analysis and design of composite structures.

It was designed as open software which would combine all necessary composite analysis and design capabilities under one unified user interface. The development started at Helsinki University of Technology (now Aalto University) and the first official version, ESAComp 1.0, was released in 1998. In 2000, Componeering was established as a spin-off company, tasked with taking over the ESAComp project and developing further iterations of the software.

The Swiss company, RUAG Space, is responsible for the complete thermal hardware subsystem of the ESA Solar Orbiter, and has built cylinders and cones for this and other ESA projects. RUAG Space provided the model to Componeering as a case-study to demonstrate the new, mainly composite post-processing features of Altair's HyperWorks.

Although it originated in the aerospace field, ESAComp has been developed as a general tool for all disciplines dealing with composites, both in industry and in research. André Mönicke, an Engineering Consultant at Componeering, said: ‘We have been listening to our customers to create an interface between ESAComp and Hyperworks for composites and post-processing’.

Although ESAComp is a stand-alone software tool, its ability to interface with Hyperworks, specifically the finite element software packages, means it can be integrated into the design process. Mönicke said: ‘There are steps not covered by traditional FE packages, so that is one area that our software comes in. We offer different tools for different parts of the design process which can be a big aid when we are talking about composites design.’

ESAComp also contains a material database. The software includes a set of analysis capabilities for solid/sandwich laminates and for micro-mechanical analyses. It further includes analysis tools for structural elements: flat and curved panels, stiffened panels, beams and columns, bonded and mechanical joints.

According to Mönicke, the materials database 'currently offers more than 1,000 materials ranging from metric materials, fibre materials, to complete pre-packed material data.’ The software also includes capabilities for probabilistic analysis that can be used for verifying the performance of the design.

Mönicke  said: ‘When we are working in pre-phase on the model you will be able just transfer all your layups or material data from ESAComp over to HyperMesh, we use the HyperMesh comments in the background so get all the names and everything right you don’t have to worry clashing FE items so it is very easy to use.’

‘After applying those laminates to the structure and doing the FE calculations you can just go through the aerospace panel into certification – this will be in Hyperworks 13 coming out soon to the ESAComp export and then decide which elements you would like to post-process.’

‘First you get a table but you also get a file that is readable using HyperView to get all the contours and the extra information that we provide’ Mönicke gave an example that showed the reserve factor, critical failure mode, critical layer ID, orientation and material used.

Mönicke went on to say:  ‘Now a question you may ask is how are we doing that? If you have been working with HyperMesh and HyperView then you might have had the problem of not being able to access data from one program when using the other.’

Mönicke explained that they have utilised ‘Matrix Browser’ technology that was introduced with Hyperworks 12. ‘Using this Matrix Browser you can access data from both programs at the same time so we are able to combine the both the material laminate and the FE result data which are needed for our post-processing’ said Mönicke.

The Solar Orbiter project is part of the ESA  ‘Cosmic Vision 2015–2025’. It will consist of several in-situ instruments and a number of remote-sensing instruments, necessary to investigate solar phenomena.

In-situ instruments will consist of a Solar Wind Analyser, Energetic Particle Detector (EPD), Magnetometer and Radio and Plasma Waves (RPW) experiment. The RPW is unique amongst the Solar Orbiter instruments in that it makes both in-situ and remote-sensing measurements. RPW will measure magnetic and electric fields at high time resolution using a number of sensors/antennas, and it will determine the characteristics of electromagnetic and electrostatic waves in the solar wind from almost DC to 20 MHz.

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