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Collaboration with SPARC Industries on plasma simulation

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Published on Wednesday, 02 October 2019

The University of Luxembourg and SPARC Industries signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to jointly develop software technology for space applications.

Stéphane Bordas, Professor in computational mechanics within the Department for Computational Engineering Sciences (Legato) at the University of Luxembourg and Dejan Petkow, CEO and Co-Founder of SPARC Industries, present this new win-win collaboration which is one of the many fruits of a 5-year initiative to build Interdisciplinary Data and Computational Sciences at the University of Luxembourg.

How did the collaboration start?

SPARC Industries was primarily interested in finding a dynamic and versatile scientific partner: “We were looking for a high qualified research partner to support us in the theoretical developments of plasma simulation technologies. We needed to enlarge our research Space by reinforcing our expertise within the field of data and computational sciences”.

From the University of Luxembourg, the collaboration was not so obvious at first sight: “My team and I have been working on fracture mechanics for over 20 years now and never thought of plasma technologies as an application for our methodologies. The two fields appeared to be as different as an apple from a passion fruit…”, explains Professor Bordas.

Several months of interdisciplinary work later, the new team found unexpected commonality between a crack propagating in a material and plasma forming around an ionic engine used for satellite propulsion. This commonality meant that the theoretical framework and numerical methodologies developed at the University of Luxembourg in the context of the Proof-of-Concept (PoC) “Intuitive modelling and SIMulation platform (IntuiSIM, FNR 2018-2020)”, could be almost directly applied to the problem of plasma flow around a satellite.

What are the benefits for both parties?

Dejan Petkow and Stéphane Bordas are deeply enthusiastic about this promising collaboration. On the one hand, the University benefits from the professional software expertise and skills of SPARC Industries to support software development in IntuiSIM. Prof. Bordas adds: “Dejan contacted us at the perfect time because we were lacking field expertise in our PoC and SPARC, as an expert in simulation software for the space industry, filled this gap through their professional software development platform and dense professional network.”

On the other hand, SPARC Industries take advantage of the deep theoretical and computational knowledge and experience from the University of Luxembourg: Dr. Petkow explains: “Stéphane Bordas and his team are the perfect match to our needs, offering us deep world-leading expertise in key theoretical areas, as well as a very broad knowledge of the world of Data and Computational Sciences”.In short, both partners are complementary, they will reinforce each other, enrich their knowledge, skills and network.

What are the potential applications of this new software?

The plasma simulation software will mainly serve for satellite propulsion. “Plasma is very important for space industries, partly because the universe consists of 99.9% plasma. Its properties are beyond solid, liquid and gas, it is extremely hot and conducts electricity. However, the physical properties inside plasma are so complex that engineers must use modelling and simulation software to reduce research costs. Depending on the implemented model sets, the software will be useful for plasma propulsion technologies, the interaction between satellite and space environment, and to study atmospheric re-entry phenomena”, explains Dejan.

What is the current status of the project?

Dejan and Stéphane: “There are in fact three activities in parallel with a total of 12 people involved. Firstly, the Proof-of-Concept IntuiSIM is continuing with two post-doctoral researchers and will be accelerating through the collaboration. Secondly, the industrial fellowship project “Efficient quality controlled plasma flow simulations directly from CAD (ectoplasm)” was recently accepted by the FNR to foster the link between the University and SPARC Industries and help close the gap between computer aided design and space science simulations. Thirdly, the daily work done by both teams is fundamental:  To optimise and maximise our current synergies, we are working to streamline and strategically reinforce our activities. That is why, we are currently looking for additional funding from public and/or private partners.”

When will the software go to the market?

Dejan: “In 2021 we aim to have a sample product ready for the first quarter of 2022 and we plan to introduce the full plasma simulation software product to the market which will be the result of our successful collaboration. In the near future, we will seek a partner for the commercialisation of the product in Europe.”

Do you have other collaborative projects in mind?

Dejan and Stéphane: “We will create a network of experts, establish data and knowledge bases to enable users to check their calculations in a formal, strict and precise way. We are also studying other future collaborations as we are already very satisfied with this first common project.”


About SPARC Industries

Created in 2017 by Dejan Petkow and Thorben Meinardus, SPARC Industries is a Luxembourg-based start-up, developing plasma propulsion systems and simulation software for the space industry. Located in Belval at Technoport, it is a member of the Luxembourg Space Cluster and receives support from the Ministry of the Economy and the European Space Agency (ESA). Ambitious and practical, the team is striving to turn ideas into realities and develop products to market maturity.

About University of Luxembourg / Legato team

Created in 2013 by Stéphane Bordas, after over 15 years of previous work, the Legato team (currently composed of 35 researchers) aims at building intuitive and interactive platforms for computational mechanics problems which allow the users to interact with their models and hence gain insights into unconventional and counter-intuitive phenomena.