Connecting loops & cubes...

Author : Phil McDavitt | Managing Director | Nicomatic Ltd.

01 June 2020

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Designs that push existing boundaries demand maximum performance from every component to achieve their purpose. Nowhere is this more important than those conceived & made reality by engineers & designers tasked with projects which must travel faster & further in inhospitable environments, or those that break through previously thought of maximum attainable limits.

These case studies were originally featured in the June 2020 issue of EPDT magazine [read the digital issue]. Sign up to receive your own copy each month.

In these case studies, Phil McDavitt, Managing Director at interconnect design & manufacturing specialist, Nicomatic Ltd. tells us how such applications demand smaller, faster and lighter connecters...

Among the most demanding projects are those that may revolutionise ground transportation in the future, as well as those taking place outside our world. For both earthbound and space applications, achieving the maximum possible performance from every component is the overriding requirement, coupled with ensuring they are robust enough to withstand environmental speed and stress, fit within often extremely constrained physical dimensions and yet add minimum weight.

TUM Hyperloop

The Hyperloop transportation project, in which high speed train pods travel in near-vacuum tubes, attaining speeds of over 1,000 km/h and above, captured the public imagination when it was first proposed by Elon Musk in 2012, before being described by a joint team from Tesla and SpaceX in a 2013 paper, so far is it from conventional present-day inter-city travel. But what seemed a far-off dream when first unveiled as a concept, today is being invested in and developed, with proposals for routes and feasibility studies underway in Dubai, India, Canada, The Netherlands and Poland, among others.

Hyperloop Alpha was released as an open source design and by 2015, several commercial companies and many university teams were engaged in developing Hyperloop technologies. Part of this effort involved the Hyperloop Pod Competition, sponsored by Space X, to design and develop a Hyperloop pod prototype. As part of the first competition, the first ever low-pressure Hyperloop run was demonstrated by MIT in 2017, with best overall design going to Delft University in The Netherlands, and fastest pod to the WARR Hyperloop from the Technical University of Munich (TUM), Germany. TUM Hyperloop (formerly WARR Hyperloop) subsequently won the competition for the next four years, increasing the top speed of the pod from 201 mph in 2017 to 288 mph in August 2019.

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French connector company, Nicomatic specialises in miniature connectors for demanding applications, and was the only connector manufacturer sponsor for WARR Hyperloop. Nicomatic’s involvement reflects its ongoing commitment to nurture extraordinary talent by participation in innovative, futuristic projects and is synergistic with its ambitious philosophy and company spirit. Nicomatic’s CMM micro connectors delivered the reliable performance and guaranteed signal integrity demanded by the challenging operational conditions in the pod, where every component had minimal weight and space requirements, coupled with optimum efficiency.

The 2mm pitch CMM Series has extremely high resistance to shock and vibration, meeting or exceeding the electrical and mechanical performance of MIL-DTL-55302F and BS-9525-F0033 standards. Due to its advanced contact technology, Nicomatic can also pass more current through the connector, while adhering to required defence performance standards and applications. Compared to other rectangular connectors with the same functionality, the CMM connector series requires up to 60% less space and is up to 50% lighter. Extreme modularity is another advantage, with more than 20 million combinations of signal, power and coax pins, from one to three rows and up to 120 pins possible in board-to-board (due to its secure wiping length), board-to-wire and wire-to-wire configurations.

In the TUM Hyperloop pod, Nicomatic’s CMM and EMM Series are used to bring high performance, high reliability and stability to the circuit boards that must operate in the challenging conditions that Hyperloop pods experience, and in the pod’s power supply system. EMM connectors, E222V14E51 are also used for temperature measurements. For communication with the main switch of the high voltage system, EMM Series E222V10E51 connectors play an important role. Nicomatic’s E222V06E51 interconnect is also used for communication with the main controller. In addition, the Hyperloop pod motherboard uses EMM-Series connector E222V08E11 to carry communication signals between the two main controller boards.

The 1.27mm pitch EMM interconnects effect a 40% space reduction over the parent CMM Series, and 20% space saving when compared to standard Micro D connectors. Designed to meet the performance requirements of MIL 83513, they integrate features such as reversed contacts, integrated 90° back protection and interchangeable hardware. Suited to both board-to-board (thanks to secure wiping length) and board-to-wire (from gauge 24 to gauge 30) configurations, EMM connectors provide extreme modularity, with any pin selection available from 04 to 60 signal contacts.

CSUG CubeSat

Very popular among the scientific and academic communities, nanosatellites are small – usually weighing 10 kg or less. CubeSats, built to a standard format of 10x10x10cm, weigh only 1.33kg – although sometimes modules are combined – and are designed to carry one or two scientific instruments into space. Low cost by space standards, they still cost around $100,000 to make and $50,000 to launch, so simple connector failures must be avoided at all costs.

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Connectors are such a critical component because not only do they carry signal or power, they also physically connect to parts of a system. Therefore, there are mechanical stresses on the connector, as well as the electrical performance to consider. In space applications, connectors must survive high levels of shock and vibration at launch, plus extremes of temperature as the satellite orbits between exposure to the sun and ‘the dark side of the Earth’.

There are, of course, extremely rugged and very durable connector systems available, but many of these are heavy and bulky and quite unsuitable for space missions in miniature satellites, where space and weight are at an absolute premium. So the challenge is to identify a connector system that is both robust and durable enough to survive the space environment, yet is high-performance, light and small. Ideally, of course, it will be a COTS or COTS+ part in order to keep costs low.

At the end of 2017, along with other sponsors, Nicomatic partnered with the Grenoble University Space Centre (CSUG: Centre Spatial Universitaire de Grenoble), which unites the Université Grenoble Alpes and Grenoble INP’s NewSpace activities. An excellent fit with its aim of helping support young people involved in innovative technology projects, Nicomatic’s sponsorship takes the form of funding, equipment and expertise.

The AmiCal Sat, CSUG’s third CubeSat project, is a 2U nanosatellite measuring 227mm x 100mm x 100 mm. Its mission is observation of the Northern and Southern Lights phenomenon, to gain greater understanding of how solar activity affects the Earth’s atmosphere, and can affect its technology systems. Nicomatic’s standard CMM Series 320 connectors, being ultra-compact, lightweight and space-proven, ensure the vital connection between the card and the camera. CMM connectors are manufactured in robust PPS material, so they exhibit no humidity absorption and are oxygen-free and resistant to radiation and solvents. Devices can withstand temperature cycling of between -60°C and +260°C.

The specific CMM connectors used are: 321V039F51 (male connector, 3 row, 39 pins, right angle on PCB), 322S039H01 (female, 3 row, 39 pins cable connector) and 321Y039F42 (male, 3 row, 39 pins, straight on PCB). The AmiCal Sat was placed in the launch POD (payload orbital delivery) on February 9 2020, ready for launch on the VEGA Arianespace launcher Flight VV16, originally scheduled for launch on March 24, but now delayed due to the Coronavirus pandemic.


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