Schottky diodes fabricated at the Nanofabrication Laboratory at MC2 are becoming important components of the second generation weather satellite space project MetOp. Photo: ESA – Pierre Carril

Devices from Chalmers going to space

Schottky diodes fabricated at the Nanofabrication Laboratory at the Department of Microtechnology and Nanoscience – MC2 – are becoming important components of the second generation weather satellite space project MetOp, scheduled for launch in 2019. The diodes were delivered to Omnisys Instruments this last May.

It is the successful outcome of a five-year journey pursued by Vladimir Drakinskiy and Peter Sobis, and the latest example of research utilisation from MC2. "We are very proud of our achievement and already see the effects in upcoming projects with the European Space Agency (ESA)", says Vladimir Drakinskiy.
 
The weather satellite project MetOp is one of the biggest projects at the European Space Agency (ESA). Apart from improving the observations of the first MetOp generation, and observing precipitation and cirrus clouds, it will also further improve weather forecasting and climate monitoring from space in Europe and worldwide. The project will yield benefits from 2022 onwards to further improve forecasting.


Vladimir Drakinskiy and Peter Sobis are leading the MetOp-project. Photo: Anna-Lena Lundqvist

Vladimir Drakinskiy is a research engineer at the Terahertz and Millimetre Wave Laboratory (TML), and responsible for the Schottky diode process line at MC2, Chalmers. In this project, he has collaborated with Peter Sobis, guest researcher at TML and R&D Adviser at Omnisys Instruments, one of Sweden's leading space companies with close connections to Chalmers. In close collaboration with Omnisys, TML has increased the technical maturity of Chalmers Schottky diodes to meet requirements for space applications.
 
"We have created a well-functioning collaboration platform that can efficiently build on ideas and knowledge in a research environment like that at Chalmers, to develop and create competitive products in Swedish industry, including for the commercial space market," says Peter Sobis in a brief comment.
 
We got the opportunity to ask Vladimir Drakinskiy a few questions about the project and the efforts of him and Peter Sobis.
 
Could you tell me a bit about the recent activities?
"The recent activities have involved audits and reviews conducted by ESA and Airbus, which we also collaborate with in the project. This has included the Chalmers Schottky process line at the Nanofabrication Laboratory and the delivery of space qualified components to Omnisys Instruments in the frame of the MetOp SG program", says Vladimir.
 
What's a Schottky diode?
"A Schottky diode is a very fast two terminal electronic device consisting of a semiconductor to metal interface. The semiconductor in this case is a doped GaAs material with a Titanium-Platinum-Gold metal interface on top. The device can be used for generating and detecting microwave and terahertz radiation. In this case, to characterise various oxygen and water lines, a part of the terahertz frequency spectrum."
 
What's the background to all this?
"MetOp SG stands for second generation Metrology Operation and is a second-generation weather and climate research satellite program that was commissioned in 2014, and that will provide weather and atmospheric data to the European countries. Operator is the European Telecommunications Satellite Organization (EUTELSAT)."
 
Why is this so important?
"MetOp SG is one of the biggest ESA programs and will be used not only for more precise weather forecasting but also for continuous long term atmospheric monitoring, which is crucial for better understanding of the underlying effects of global warming and long term prognosis of earth's climate."
 
Could you describe your own roles in the project?
"Chalmers has developed a world class semiconductor process for terahertz Schottky diodes with unique qualities required for space applications. My role was to develop the fabrication technology to meet the formal requirements set by ESA and Airbus. Omnisys provided specifications, circuit demonstrators and carried out most of the reliability tests."
 
Has it been a time-consuming project? For how long have you been working with it?
"The project has been part of a larger ongoing effort of developing a state-of–the-art semiconductor process specialised for terahertz space applications at Chalmers. For MetOp, a prequalification phase was initiated by the same team almost five years ago which later lead to a contract for fabrication and delivery of flight components which is where we are now."
 
I heard you celebrated with cake. How did this attention feel for you?
"It has been a lot of hard work and it feels great to finally have succeeded. We are very proud of our achievement and already see the effects in upcoming projects with ESA", says Vladimir Drakinskiy.
 
What's happening now? What's the next step?
"We have several projects running and will also soon initiate a new ESA project aiming for space qualification of our Schottky and HBV devices at even higher frequencies."
 
Jan Stake is professor in terahertz electronics and head of the Terahertz Millimetre Wave Laboratory (TML) at MC2, where the project has been conducted. He is very pleased with the results:
"Delivering unique technology to one such project is of course a huge achievement of Chalmers. The project has been very challenging, different, but a great learning experience and raised the overall quality and ability related to process and manufacturing of terahertz electronics in the Nanofabrication Laboratory at Chalmers. Vladimir and Peter, clean room staff and everyone involved, have done a great work", he comments.

Peter Modh is head of the Nanofabrication Laboratory:
"The project shows that even in a lab that is not really certified, it is possible to get very advanced components that's strong enough to send out in space. It is a strength", he says.
 
Text: Michael Nystås
Photo: Anna-Lena Lundqvist
Photo of satellite: ESA – Pierre Carril
 

METOP FACTS

MetOp is short for The Meteorological Operational satellite programme. It is a European undertaking providing weather data services to monitor the climate and improve weather forecasts. It represents the European contribution to a new co-operative venture with the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
 
MetOp is a series of three satellites, forming the space segment of Eumesat's Polar System (EPS). Launched on 19 October 2006, MetOp-A, the first satellite in the series, replaced one of two satellite services operated by NOAA and is Europe’s first polar-orbiting satellite dedicated to operational meteorology.
 
MetOp-B, the second in the series, was launched on 17 September 2012 and operates in tandem with MetOp-A, increasing the wealth of data even further. The third and final satellite, MetOp-C will be launched in 2018.
 
Launching a new satellite every 5–6 years guarantees a continuous delivery of high-quality data for medium- and long-term weather forecasting and climate monitoring until at least 2020.
 
 
 

Published: Fri 30 Jun 2017. Modified: Sat 01 Jul 2017