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Atena: the innovative Argotec-Comau system for the functional testing of nanosatellites

Argotec and Comau are working together to create an innovative system aimed at testing and validating the functionality of nanosatellites.

The verification of a satellite’s hardware, software and its navigation and control algorithms is generally carried out through simulation and complex numerical analysis, but the results are often hard to interpret. To overcome these difficulties, Argotec has developed ATENA (Advanced Testing Emulator for Nanosatellite Arm), a system which provides immediate verification and constant monitoring of satellite parameters by means of a robotic arm.
The project began with an intuition by Argotec – an Italian aerospace company that is also involved in the implementation of small satellites – for which they started collaborating with Comau, a local company that is also a global leader in the supply of advanced industrial automation solutions.

The system, for which Argotec has registered a patent for the technological innovations they developed, consists of a satellite – or part of it – an electronic control unit and a Comau Racer7 1.4 robot. With a payload of 7 kg and a reach of 1,400 mm, Racer7 is the fastest robot in its category and guarantees reliability and precision in a compact design.

The nanosatellite – or part of it – is first fastened to the wrist of the Comau robot. Using a closed loop configuration, the system tests the communication protocols that connect the different subsystems, verifies their interaction and obtains mechanical responses that are comparable to in-orbit satellite movements during the different phases of a mission.

These features prove to be particularly useful for validating the functionality and performance of a satellite and its subsystems. Moreover, the use of robotics enables visual feedback regarding the behavior of the satellite. This guarantees a simpler and more immediate visualization of the test results, as well as the possibility to carry out functionality and performance demos of the flight hardware. This is a real breakthrough in the aerospace sector, as two or more robots can now faithfully reproduce in-orbit satellite docking.

David Avino, Managing Director of Argotec, said: “Argotec is constantly looking for reliable technological solutions which can improve the quality of space systems and also allow possible Earth-related effects. In fact, according to our company vision, everything that is designed for space activities can have an immediate return on Earth, resulting in benefits in our daily life and meeting needs which haven’t been met yet. The ATENA project, for which a patent application has been filed, represents our dynamic vision, our desire to innovate and, above all, the ability to collaborate with a multinational companies like Comau, pursuing a common goal: obtaining outstanding results of international relevance by exporting the excellence of Made-in-Italy technology in the world.” 

Massimo Calvetto, Sales Manager GI Italy of Comau, observed: “We are proud to have contributed to the implementation of the innovative project developed by Argotec, in an extremely technological sector such as aerospace, where precision and reliability are essential components. Our robots have proved to be the right choice to guarantee the achievement of excellent results. Comau is renewed as a leader in the automotive sector, but the company has always been ready to open up and extend its areas of application to all the other sectors as well: our advanced skills, the levels of technological excellence we achieved and our flexible, modular and high-performance solutions are now also available to the SMEs operating in the General Industry.”
 
 
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