ULRKA - Ultra-Light Reflector for Ka-band Applications


Development and qualification of a lightweight reflector with a diameter of 2.8m for C, X, Ku and Ka-band (frequencies up to 32GHz) applications.

The project objectives include production-related characteristics, such as reduction of manufacturing lead time and of production cost. These objectives call for the definition of a standardized design for the reflectors’ family, based on a modular architecture and on the wide use of standard parts, as well as the adoption of new materials and new technologies.

The reflectors’ family is targeted for telecommunication satellites, therefore its design is conceived to guarantee its compatibility with next future platforms and compliance with stability, mass and intermodulation requirements. The reference configuration considered for the design of the reflector and of its support structure is based on the most recent spacecraft family under development by Thales Alenia Space (i.e. Spacebus-Neo). In order to simplify the design, the backing structure is being designed to be applicable to both inner and outer reflector in the double accommodation configuration.

Although the main domain of application for these reflectors will be telecommunication antennas, the enabling technologies and most of the standard components selected and validated during the development can be applied as well for any other space applications, such as Earth Observation, Science and Deep Space Exploration. 


The major challenge is represented by the use of composite materials currently not qualified for space applications. The major advantages in using these types of materials are represented by their low cost and by the absence of export restrictions (“blue” materials). On the other hand, the fact that these materials are new for space applications calls for the definition and qualification of technologies and production processes, as well as the implementation of a full qualification campaign on an EQM reflector.

Another key challenge is represented by the reduction of production costs, including the costs for manufacturing tools, particularly the mould.


With respect to the reflectors currently procured on the market, the following benefits are expected:

  • Lower mass
  • Lower cost
  • Reflector family design approach to limit the engineering effort during the program execution
  • Generic backing structure (i.e. the same backing structure can be used for both inner and outer reflectors)
  • Simplification of production line organization (pull approach), with a target 10-12 months delivery time for a couple of FM units.
  • Use of materials not subject to Export Control


The lightweight and low cost features of the reflectors’ family can be achieved thanks to the use of:

  • Low cost carbon fiber
  • Low cost aramidic honeycomb
  • Standard structural parts  compatible with modular architecture

Moreover, the use of low cost mould and the simplification of polymerization process allow to reduce the production costs.


The project activities started in early 2015 as an internally funded project. The contract entered into force in October 2016. The project activities include:

  • Design of the reflector and of the backing structure.
  • Manufacturing of samples for characterization and testing of new materials
  • Manufacturing and validation of low cost mould
  • Definition of qualification test procedures for materials, processes, standard parts and subassemblies
  • Manufacturing and test of an EQM of reflector and backing structure.

The activities are planned to be completed in October 2018

The project includes the following reviews:

  • Prior Work Review
  • PDR
  • CDR
  • TRR
  • TRB
  • Final Review

Current status

The design of the reflector has been completed.

The qualification of new materials has been completed.

The EQM version of the mould has been procured.

A first reflector shell and backing structure elements have been already manufactured.

The following reviews have been successfully held:

  • Prior Work Review (October 2016)
  • PDR (December 2016).
  • CDR (December 2017).

Ongoing activities are the manufacturing of a second reflector shell with reduced thickness and the assembly of the backing structure.


ESA Contacts

Status date

Wednesday, February 14, 2018 - 11:29