Revolutionary, Mini Gridded Ion Engine to Transform Deployment of Cubesats in Space

Lead Participant: Mars Space Ltd

Abstract

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.

Lead Participant

Project Cost

Grant Offer

Mars Space Ltd, Southampton £41,667 £ 25,000

Publications

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