TAG Thermo Acoustic Electric Generation for Communication Satellites


(1) Define the operating modes and constraints associated to thermo-acoustic engines and geostationary Satcom

(2) Propose new concepts of Satcom (including energy storage) and adapt thermo-acoustic energy conversion

(3) Review satellite platform concepts and operation

(4) Assess possibilities to use thermo-acoustic engine during transfer phase when coupled with other subsystems

(5) Assess budgets (performance, costs, …)

(6) Assess Benefits and Constraints

(7) Propose roadmaps – if needed (incl. IOD)

This activity shall be implemented with the aim at being implemented with a system-orientated approach, at platform and satellite level, in order to assess the cost benefits of the proposed thermo-acoustic solar-to-electric energy conversion technique.


A TAG power subsystem on-board a telecoms spacecraft is a thoroughly ground-breaking concept. The key challenges are: 

  • Achieving system level competitiveness vs. traditional PV systems.
  • Satisfying operational constraints (ground test, prelaunch, launch/transfer and failure recover)
  • EV management (thermal, vibration, radiation and vacuum).
  • Structural design (deployables, heat collection and distribution etc…).
  • Assessing and managing micro-vibration
  • Assessing degradation and failure reliability
  • Verifying suitability of materials and finding replacements.
  • Benchmarking and scaling re. PV based systems
  • TRL development strategy roadmap planning
  • Power generation management through.


Traditional power subsystems are historically high-cost and feature two of the most expensive components in a spacecraft; batteries and Photo Voltaic (PV) solar panels. The objective of the TAG system is to reduce the overall cost of communications satellite in order to increase the competitiveness of the industry. 

The optimised TAG spacecraft attitude maintains the solar collector in a sun facing orientation thus requiring only one sun facing asset. This allows for an increased number of structural panels available for heat rejection (from 2 for PV system to 5 for TAG system) which is used not only by the TAG system but also telecommunications payload and thermal management of other subsystems. This increases power density of the spacecraft thus affording lower system level kg/Watt transmitted. 

The power to mass ratio of the TAG system follows roughly a square root law, benefiting higher power applications e.g. 10kW and above. 

Some highly innovative prospects, not covered by the scope of this study, are revealed in the technology Road Map such as AOCS assistance, alternative non-toxic propulsion.


A deployable Cassegrain telescope, consisting of a light weight primary reflector and a smaller deployable secondary mirror, collects and concentrates sunlight (power input consisting of infrared and visible spectra). Once concentrated, the light goes into the solar oven where it is converted into heat. This heat is brought to the TAG via liquid sodium heat pipes at roughly 850ºC to 1000°C. Cascading amplifiers resonate, amplifying the sound energy by a factor of about 9. A passive feedback, consisting of a tube, is accommodated in a relatively small space. The heat from the liquid sodium heat pipes is delivered to the TAG’s hot heat exchangers. Conventional heat pipes connected to the TAG’s cold heat exchangers, deliver exhaust heat (heat not converted to electrical power) to the spacecraft’s structural radiators at roughly normal ambient spacecraft temperature.


Acoustic energy is converted to electrical power by 2 linear alternators configured in physical opposition to aid cancelation of vibration. The initial study target is for a target electric power output of is 5kWe.

System Architecture

Simply replacing the PV structure with a TAG system imposes too many constraints. A complex sun acquisition deployment system capable of supporting a large solar collector, TAG system and waste heat radiator is required. Additionally the system would require a high power drive mechanism (equivalent to the SADM) to transfer the power to the spacecraft systems. 

A completely innovative approach has been taken. The architectural design is focussed on the needs of the TAG system. The TAG is located in its own module attached to the main structure of the spacecraft. The TAG main collector is permanently sun facing. The remaining faces of the spacecraft provide heat rejection radiator surfaces. The additional radiator area accommodates the heat rejection from the TAG, the payload and the systems thus eliminating the need for additional external mass. Comms antenna are located on the +/-Y walls mounted on a rotating coupler (similar to a terrestrial RADAR) to maintain Earth facing. 


Task 1 – TAG technology study

Task 2 – architecture concept

Task 3 – Benchmark exercise

Task 4 – Technology Roadmap 

Current status

Task 1 has been completed. A dual TAG cascade system based on Helium feeding two linear alternators has been selected. 

Task 2, spacecraft architecture, operations and material selection has been kicked off. 


ESA Contacts

Status date

Wednesday, April 5, 2017 - 09:58