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Multipurpose satellite platform using electric propulsion for small missions from Earth up to the Moon

Country of Origin: Germany
Reference Number: TODE20210708001
Publication Date: 12 July 2021

Summary

A German start-up has developed a flexible ready-to-use satellite platform for low-cost commercial or scientific missions of small payloads from low Earth up to lunar orbits. Advantages include accessibility and cost efficiency through standardization and the possibility to use small rockets to reach the Moon, which is a novum. Sought are potential end-users such as satellite operators, payload providers or mission architects for technical cooperation or investors for financial agreements.

Description

In the past, space travel was the exclusive preserve of governments and large space agencies. That has changed in recent years with the increasing commercialization of space. However, the lack of a low-cost and standardized infrastructure in space keeps entry barriers high and makes also small satellite missions expensive. While small rockets, commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) payloads and complete end-to-end mission operation service offers are already kicking off to make space increasingly accessible for space newcomers, the most costly and critical factor, the satellite itself, is still left behind.

A German start-up wants to lower these entry barriers by offering a multipurpose satellite platform for dedicated missions of small payloads from low-Earth to lunar orbits. By using an “off the shelf”-solution for commercial or scientific space missions, the launch interval can be shortened from 24 to 3 months, launch and opportunity costs can be reduced, launch and maintenance of microsatellite constellations is facilitated, secondary payload constraints are avoided.

The free-flying platform (150kg | 1.2m³) can, alternatively to dedicated payload missions, act as an electrical low-thrust kickstage to also carry and deploy smaller satellites in higher orbits than it was previously affordable with rockets only. The platform is also capable to offer data relay services for brought or already-there satellites at the target environment, even at the Moon. Operators of SmallSats can thus rely on capable electric propulsion as an addition to small rockets and can therefore choose from a wider set of launch solutions, that only become viable with the platform described. In the most disrupting mission type it can be launched into Geostationary Earth Orbit (GEO) to reach the Moon within a year, without the need for a moon-capable rocket.

The platform aims at cost efficiency through standardization and the combination of already available components rather than costly tailor-made development. Together with the electric propulsion system it provides a universal and nimble infrastructure for small satellite missions, being especially advantageous compared to custom solutions in the lunar range.

Its payload compartment (transportation envelope 32U | 50kg) offers generous volume and interfaces to accommodate dedicated payload(s) and satellites on the top payload deck using standardized, but customizable adapters. A flexible payload accommodation and interfacing concept allow for the integration of further instruments on a slot-based architecture (plug-and-play).

The platform has dimensions of 1x1x1.2m³ (folded solar arrays) and a wingspan of 5m. It has a mass of 85kg dry and 100kg wet, 150kg. The propulsion system has 2x 6mN Thrust, up to 4000s Isp and 14kg propellant.

Addressable mission environments include Low Earth Orbit (LEO), variable high GEO, cislunar and lunar orbits. Further iterations of the platform based on the original concept shall also be capable of interplanetary missions, e.g. to Venus, Mars and the inner asteroid belt for prospecting and complementing larger exploration missions.

The German Start-up seeks further possible partners such as satellite operators, defence institutions, commercial or scientific payload providers, space data providers (geographic, radiation, navigation, meteorological and communication data), space mission architects or others for technical cooperation agreements.
They should contribute to the further development of the satellite platform by being included in pilot space missions. The partners should engage in a regular exchange with the developers, give recommendations concerning technical optimisation potential and contribute to the further improvement of the invention until market maturity is reached.

Also sought are investors (venture capitalists or industrial players from Old Space as lead investors) for financial agreements for direct financial support.
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Advantages and Innovations

• time efficiency: shortening of the launch interval from 24 to 3 months 
• cost efficiency: significant reduction of launch and opportunity costs
• standardization and “ready-to-use” concept allow for the use of small satellites for private or scientific entities lacking space infrastructure
• Joint use of small rockets and the platform described makes the transport of small satellites into higher orbits (up to the moon) viable for space users, that so far faced high cost and accessibility barriers
• micro-launchers generally become viable together with the platform as an alternative to conventional rockets for more complex near-earth missions and missions beyond the low earth orbits, which avoids secondary payload constraints for the customer

Stage Of Development

Available for demonstration

Stage Of Development Comment

In August 2020, the team concluded the Preliminary Design Review. In simulations with commercial and own developed software, full missions were simulated and analyzed based on a wide range of inputs. The design was deemed robust, since margins and conservative engineering still show an effective price/performance and mass/performance ratio. With only minor changes expected due to changing procurement offers and relying mostly on full COTS-components, The technology is ready for prototyping. Currently, actual procurement preparation for prototyping is targeted and done. While the TRL on system level is at TRL 3, the components included in the system are either COTS with flight heritage (TRL 9) or modified designs of currently existing COTS components. The Start-Up acts as a system integrator procuring components externally from manufacturers who have space heritage and thus profits from the technological advantages throughout the sector without putting own efforts at risk.

Requested partner

Sought are partners that can be included in pilot space missions in the framework of technical cooperation agreements. Possible partners in this context can be satellite operators, partners from the defence sector, payload providers (commercial or scientific), providers of space data (geographic, radiation, navigation, meteorological and communication data), space mission architects or similar. 

The goal of these partnerships is to improve and further develop the satellite platform in order to enter the market successfully. To achieve this goal, partners should contribute by giving technical advice and recommendations, prepare and execute the pilot mission in cooperation with the German Start-Up, identify optimisation potential and engage in a regular exchange with the developers.

Also, financial agreements with investors are sought. These can be venture capitalists or partners from the industrial sector (Old Space) as lead investors in order to support the technology development through direct financial support.

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