Simulator for solar array tests space electronics

A solar array simulator from Elgar Corp. in San Diego allows engineers at TRW Space and Technology division in Redondo Beach, Calif., to simulate the output of a satellite solar panel while the spacecraft is still on the ground.

A solar array simulator from Elgar Corp. in San Diego allows engineers at TRW Space and Technology division in Redondo Beach, Calif., to simulate the output of a satellite solar panel while the spacecraft is still on the ground.

"It allows us to check out our power system and flight control algorithms that do battery charging," explains Kirk Reger, a project staff engineer at TRW. "The solar panels keep batteries in a good state of condition to provide proper power to spacecraft electronics."

The solar array simulator mimics the power - or shortage of power - flowing from the panel to spacecraft electronics. It can simulate situations such as a solar eclipse, where "you have a bright flash of sun then no sun, then coming out of an eclipse, you get a surge," Reger explains. "So as it rotates, you turn the panel toward the sun. We can simulate a full orbit as far as the power supply is concerned - it simulates what the real panels would be doing."

The simulator can also emulate aging cells, so a user can program it to run as if the satellite has been up for four years, says Jerry Frazier, program sales manager at Elgar. "It allows them to see what real-life conditions will be like in space and how their electronics will react to voltage changes."

TRW has used Elgar`s simulator since the late 1980s. In that time, the designs have evolved and become more efficient, Reger says. "They`ve gone to a standardized approach, so in the event of a failure, you can pull a module out and put in another in two minutes."

Elgar`s simulator also enables users to customize a solution or use a standard off-the-shelf product. In addition, a user controls the simulator locally or via a network connection. - K.S.

For more information, phone Jerry Frazier at Elgar at 619-450-0085 ext. 260.

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