Why Space Propulsion

The dawn of commercial space

Without necessarily realizing it, our everyday lives greatly benefit from satellite technology. Live footage from the rest of the world, communications in remote regions, in the air or the middle of the sea, monitoring our planet and disaster relief are just some of today’s activities that would not be possible without satellites. 

In the past, only certain governments, agencies or big corporations were able to afford large satellites and provide these services. This past decade however, incited by the data revolution, a number of new private and commercial actors have taken it upon themselves to conquer space with new services in a more affordable manner.

 

Sustainability is at risk

These new actors uses smaller miniaturized satellite operating in constellations of 10 to 100s and sometimes 1000s of satellites. The industry expect more than 10.000 satellites to be launched into space within the next decade. That is a ten-fold increase in the number of satellites launched per year!

Most of the next generation satellites exploit the LEO orbits (Low earth orbits) because the rapid revisit time. Some are launched into very low orbits (300 km) and their natural orbiting lifetime is just a few months, while others are in orbit at slightly higher altitudes (600 – 1000 km) where the natural lifetime quickly increases to 10s or 100s of years. This exponential increase in lifetime over such a short distance is alarming for the industry. Without propulsion on board the satellites, this industry is not sustainable.

Smart in-orbit propulsion

With the miniaturization of satellites, the whole engineering process had to be, and are still being, rethought in order to meet the demands and needs of this new market.

After an era of innovation during the early Space Age, the space industry became more complacent and risk-averse. Big satellites meant big budgets with very long mission development times. Subsystems were sourced from different contractors and then assembled inhouse by a main prime. This was also the case for propulsion, where the thruster, electronics and fluidics where ordered from different vendors. Each of these sub-systems were optimized as a subsystem, trading sometimes the optimization on system level.

This is no longer possible for small satellites, keeping in mind the high power density and high payload density - every inch of the satellites is used, every inch optimized.

ThrustMe has foreseen the need for stand-alone propulsion with tailoring capabilities. All our propulsion subsystems are developed in-house, optimized on a propulsion system level, and pre-integrated and tested to provide a turn key solution for the propulsive operations of any small satellite. In addition to the classical bricks of propulsion (thruster, electronics, propellant and flow control) we have also imbedded a passive thermal management and developed intelligent operations.