Press Release

European Space Agency to send Atout’s ‘Smart Tanks for Space’ to International Space Station

The astronauts of the future won't need to wait for the fuel light to come on before they know their tanks are running low – thanks to a new system from UK company Atout Process Ltd that can accurately measure how full a tank is in zero gravity. A project funded by the European Space Agency is enabling Atout's Smart Tanks for Space (SMARTTS) systems to be tested onboard the International Space Station.

While car fuel gauges rely on gravity, Atout’s technology uses electrical capacitance tomography sensors to measure the mass of liquid in a tank, show where it is and how it is moving, and to calculate the resulting forces on the vehicle. SMARTTS solve many of the longstanding problems of measuring propellant in space vessels in zero gravity.

To build the prototype SMARTTS system to go to the International Space Station, Atout will enlist the help of space engineers at Surrey Space Centre, part of the University of Surrey, and use the specialist facilities there. The SpaceCraft programme, funded by the UK Space Agency and designed to boost space enterprise and skills in the region, opens the doors of Surrey Space Centre to businesses who otherwise struggle to find the specialist maker-spaces, expert engineers and testing facilities they need to develop new products for the space sector.

Andrew Hunt, Chief Executive at Atout, said: “We’re confident that SMARTTS can report, in real-time, accurate measurements of fuel, even in space. Thanks to ESA, we’ll now get the chance to prove it in orbit through experiments on the International Space Station. It’s essential new technology for proposed new space industries and will enable measurable in-orbit refuelling.”

Professor Keith Ryden, Director of Surrey Space Centre at the University of Surrey, said:
“With their SMARTTS, Atout have a fantastic product and we’re helping them demonstrate its value. We have built many instruments to go to space so we’re well placed to advise them and have the specialist equipment and facilities they’ll need, like clean rooms and machines to check SMARTTS can withstand the stresses of launch and the harsh conditions of space.

“Gauges like those used in cars don’t work in zero gravity, so alternative techniques are used in space which rely on estimates and calculations. However, errors can accumulate and there’s no real-time information, so mission designers have to factor in extra reserves of fuel, with significant associated costs. SMARTTS could be a real game-changer in the space sector, saving money and opening doors to new industries, and we’re keen to see how they operate in orbit.”

Atout will build the prototype SMARTTS system for testing on ISS in 2024 and ESA currently plans to launch it in 2025.

What SMARTTS can do for you

Accurate Real-Time, Zero-G, Propellant Gauging

SMARTTS answers the long unsolved problem of gauging propellant in microgravity.

SMARTTS is applicable to any spacecraft
using liquid or gaseous propellant, at any scale,
providing accurate gauging in any gravity
and any orientation.

Accurate gauging will improve spacecraft efficiency, allow reduced propellant reserve, increase spacecraft lifetime, and help reduced space debris risk by allowing better end of life planning.

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Accurate Real Time Slosh Force Measurement / Fluid Torque Measurement

SMARTTS provides a real time fluid distribution measurement.

From the distribution measurement, real time CoM and any resulting torque on a spacecraft can be determined.

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Propellant Custody Transfer

Accurate gauging is ubiquitous for any transfer of valuable liquid commodities in Earth

Propellant accelerated to orbital velocity is the most valuable commodity of all,
and it follows that SMARTTS will enable trustworthy propellant transfer between vehicles and between organisations.

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Void Fraction Measurement

In any liquid propulsion system the availability of liquid propellant at a tank outlet or pump inlet is critical.

SMARTTS allows real time measurement of void (or gas) fraction however caused. For cryogenic propellants boiling is an additional source of void fraction, and SMARTTS can be used to monitor critical volumes or entire tanks.

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