Modern development of small satellites and low-cost launchers is enabling new business models and applications at a fraction of the cost of only a few years ago. Small space systems offer capabilities that match their much larger predecessors, although there are still some limitations. One of the most limiting factors in small satellites is the fact that they generally do not carry propulsion systems. This means that orbital manoeuvres to extend mission life or to quickly deorbit the system at end of life, in line with orbital debris mitigation regulations, are impossible.
Several initiatives are in development to remove this limitation, with a lot of developments focusing on electric propulsion (EP). However, most of these systems need a lot of power and offer low thrust. They need extensive amounts of time firing to provide enough thrust for large orbit changes or de-orbiting. In discussion with various cubesat providers, new company Lift Me Off (LMO) has identified a need for a low power, high propulsive system, which is able to perform efficient and quick orbit transfer manoeuvres.
With a focus on the small satellite market, LMO has designed a chemical propulsion subsystem for a 12U satellite. To validate the design, bring it to the right maturity and ensure it works as expected, LMO applied for the Open Cosmos, ESA Business Applications and ESA Space Solutions Call to Orbit programme. This first technology is a first steppingstone for LMO in its development of propulsion and AI technologies to enable the servicing market for a more sustainable use of space.
Through the Call to Orbit programme LMO will be able to further define and test the mechanical, thermal and electrical interfaces of their system. In the project they will look at the interaction of the propulsion unit with other satellite subsystems, while working with Open Cosmos on further improving mission planning and operations. At the end of the project LMO hopes to have a design which is fully compatible with the Open Cosmos 12U satellite bus on all interfaces and which is ready for an in-orbit demonstration mission in the beginning of 2021.