New vehicles are appearing in the service of nanosatellites, to eject them at a particular time, to give them a specific trajectory or even to recover them.
Under the cap of the Vega launcher, which has still not been able to take off for lack of favorable weather conditions (the attempts are interrupted for a few days), one of the 53 satellites present is somewhat unusual… It is itself a satellite of transport for much smaller satellites. Developed by the Italian company D-Orbit, this device, which measures a little more than the size of a washing machine (and weighs 150 kg) is called the ION CubeSat Carrier. If it is not equipped with propulsion, it can orient itself very precisely, communicate with the ground and provide electrical power for the satellites it houses for several months. Once in orbit, it will open its ” lockers “And will eject at the request of CubeSats with a size between 1U and 12U (a U is a cube of 10 x 10 x 10 cm).
Are you going into orbit? Go up!
This new type of service is emerging for customers who, despite the size of their satellites, are looking for tailor-made solutions that rocket operators cannot always provide. Difficult for example for a university or a small country to precisely identify its satellite when it is ejected within seconds of many others, when they arrive in orbit. And impossible for a launcher like Vega, Soyuz or Falcon 9, wait several days between each satellite ejection.
Thus, these ejections with a calibrated timing and a very precise thrust, can save significant portions of fuel for these very small satellites, or even ensure better coverage of the planet in the case of mini-constellations. Better still, a platform like ION allows its customers to host only a payload: antenna, material to be tested, electronic circuit, receiver, etc. By ensuring for them all the rest of the mission in orbit.
A French dispenser…
The French start-up Exotrail even promises to go a step further with its innovative Space Van platform. The project won € 100,000 during the “R&D Challenge” organized by the CNES and is based on this idea of providing several dozen customers with a carrier satellite (or “dispenser”), this time equipped with autonomous propulsion.
Enough to move to reach ever more specific orbits and provide better service. More advanced, more flexible to use than current solutions, the Space Van could take off for a first mission in 2023, according to Exotrail director David Henry. And the company hopes to reduce the cost of access to the orbit to just one million euros for these customers…
Other manufacturers are already considering dual-use carriers, which could also recover satellites at the end of their mission. It will be necessary to act quickly, competition in this new sector promises to be fierce.
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