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Southampton, United Kingdom

Agency: GTR | Branch: Innovate UK | Program: | Phase: Smart - Proof of Market | Award Amount: 25.00K | Year: 2016

Cubesats & nanosatellites are one of the fastest growing sectors of the space business with the number being launched into orbit increasing almost exponentially. They are evolving from being just university projects & technology demonstrators to commercial realities. The cubesat commercial market is dividing into two distinct segments. The first is 3 Unit (3U) cubesats in very low earth orbits (<300 km) for earth observation giving frequent image refresh & short constellation lifetimes. The second segment is for larger 6U, 12U, & 24U cubesats used in higher orbits (400 – 600 km) to perform longer lifetime, more complex missions focusing on EO, radar imaging, telecommunications & science & military applications. Most of these missions need propulsion to perform orbit insertion, constellation control & orbit changes. At present they use mainly cold gas propulsion, but lately a strong interest has emerged in the use of electric propulsion (EP) due to higher performance capabilities. MSL is developing a revolutionary, advanced, mini gridded ion engine for these larger 6-24U cubesats that provides very high delta-v (thrust + burn time) & orbit control capabilities, uses very low power (less than 20W), and is much cheaper than alternative technologies. This will allow 6-24U cubesats to perform orbit insertion manoeuvres, large orbit changes, and deorbiting at the end of life. This will be a disruptive factor as cubesats currently must operate on the launcher insertion orbit or very close to it. The capability to manoeuvre significantly away from the launcher insertion orbit will have clear economic benefits and help reduce the space debris problem. MSL now needs to undertake a market assessment to roadmap to broader uptake of the technology; understand the detailed product requirements for future cubesat missions; to size the potential market; & to understand the compelling ‘value proposition’ that MSL brings.

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