Involvement in the European Space Agency’s Intermediate Experimental Vehicle program to devise re-entry technology for low-earth orbit programs has given Aero Sekur an opportunity to take its expertise in the use of lightweight, flexible structures literally into the realms of rocket science. The company was selected for the work in November 2009 and is due to complete the project by the end of this year.
But Aero Sekur (Hall 4 Stand B8) has had 40 years of experience in developing more down-to- earth, but nonetheless vital, aerospace products, including flotation devices, aircraft evacuation slides and parachutes. The Anglo-Italian company is an unashamedly engineering-led enterprise that has built a specialization from combining materials in multi-layer, high-performance structures. They also feature advanced gassing systems that can inflate them in less than a second and control systems to ensure they immediately adjust to surrounding atmospheres as inhospitable as the surface of Mars.
“We work in areas where it is not just smart technology that is needed, but where users are very reliant the systems, so they have to operate at very high levels of reliability, even after being packed away unused for several years,” explained CEO Mark Butler.
Products such as aircraft floats have complex requirements including the need to retain gas, be structurally strong and be able to take high stress. Sometimes these needs can be met by combining materials like polyurethane and nylon, but in other cases Aero Sekur has to decouple materials and include a fine barrier to retain gas, which then is supported by a stronger fabric.
With its flotation systems, the company has been working to reduce the weight of the structures and use non-pyrotechnic solutions for inflation. “The main advantage of this approach is in terms of reliability and maintainability,” explained Butler. “This means fewer overhauls and with a simpler valve [for inflation] the equipment can be overhauled by any aircraft engineer because the valve can be reset in ten minutes rather than taking a ten-week turnaround to have the whole system dismantled and sent away for overhaul.”
Among the company’s current new programs is an external life raft that it is developing for Eurocopter’s EC 175 helicopter. It is also doing similar work on two new military helicopter programs.
Aero Sekur also makes fuel tanks, in many cases for helicopters for which they have to meet high standards of crash-resistance. For example, for military helicopters they have to be able to survive a fall of 65 feet (set to be increased to 75 feet); for civil aircraft the requirement is 50 feet. For defense applications the tanks also have to have ballistic protection, for which Aero Sekur has devised materials that will re-seal the structure when it is hit by incoming fire.
The company has also been developing a new re-entry module to support space missions. Its Spacecrew Emergency Module can act as a space lifeboat to rescue crew, but also could allow scientific samples to be safely returned to earth. The unit combines Aero Sekur’s parachute technology with a consumable, inflatable heat shield that allows the capsule to slow down as it crosses the upper layers of the atmosphere. As the module descends through the lower atmosphere, a parachute and deceleration system further reduces its landing speed.
In the growing field of agrospace, Aero Sekur has developed very lightweight inflatable greenhouses that can be used to grow vegetables on other planets. In preparation for their eventual use on the surface of Mars, the company has tested the greenhouses by growing tomatoes at its facility at Aprilia in Italy.
Aero Sekur also has an office here in Farnborough, and is back at the airshow after making its first appearance at the 2008 event. On its stand this week, it is hosting a group of young engineers from various countries as part of its commitment to encouraging young people to pursue careers in aerospace engineering.