Scientists and engineers at Lockheed Martin's Advanced Technology Center (ATC) have packed three times the power density into a key satellite cooling system whose previous design it says was already the lightest in its class. This project continues the company’s effort to reduce component size, enabling compact, higher-power spacecraft payloads, and smaller sensor platforms back on Earth.
Highly sophisticated electronics like satellite sensors and cameras need to be cooled to detect what they’re designed to capture, even to temperatures as low as -320°F. The company describes the microcryocooler operating like a refrigerator, drawing heat out of sensor systems and delivering cooling to small satellites
Smaller cryocoolers mean more affordable satellites and launches. With higher power, this microcryocooler enables larger, more sensitive IR sensors, which is useful for very high-resolution images. Despite its increased capability, the component’s power efficiency rating is roughly the same as lower-power coolers.
The High Power Microcryocooler is a high-reliability system designed to provide continuous operation over a lifespan in excess of 10 years. It is claimed to be the industry’s highest power density cryocooling system, delivering more than 150 W/kg, a significant advancement from the 30-60 W/km rating most space-rated cryocoolers deliver. It also weighs less than a pound, which is less than half the weight of similar cooling systems.
“Our previous design was a revolution in size, and now we’re taking it further and packing it with increased power. This will make a difference for technology in space, on naval ships, and aboard aircraft,” said Dr. Jeffrey Olson, a research scientist at Lockheed Martin’s ATC.