Spotlight: Morpheus Space – Developing Ground-Breaking Electric Propulsion for Small Satellites


This article is a profile of Morpheus Space, a participant in the satsearch membership program, and was developed in collaboration with the company.

In today’s post we meet Morpheus Space, a manufacturer of innovative electric propulsion systems based in Dresden, Germany.

Morpheus Space

The history of Morpheus Space

Morpheus Space is an innovative new company seeking to revolutionize the nanosatellite industry by enhancing its capabilities and sustainability. To launch the company, the six founders built on their research experience from Technische Universität Dresden (TU Dresden) on electric propulsion for nanosatellite technology.

Spinning out Morpheus Space GmbH from TU Dresden was the team’s final milestone in a 7-year R&D roadmap. They have successfully secured over €1 million in resources so far to set up production and launch products on the market, and are now looking to firmly establish the company in the space industry.

Morpheus Space’s technology

Morpheus’ core technology is a modular electric propulsion system suitable for small satellites called the NanoFEEP (Nano Field Effect Electric Propulsion). This is a miniaturized ion thruster combined with a neutralizer (to avoid electrostatic charging of the satellite) and control components.

The NanoFEEP system is a very innovative propulsion technology that offers one of the best specifications available in the industry in three distinct categories: high efficiency (in terms of specific impulse delivered), low weight and long equipment lifetime.

Morpheus also develops bespoke thruster systems by combining multiple propulsion units in the MultiFEEP system. The combined system can be custom-designed to achieve complex and challenging 3D thrust profiles, across a wide thrust range, for difficult applications and complicated orbits.

This provides satellite manufacturers and mission designers with a range of new capabilities and opportunities in space. Find out more about the technology below and in Morpheus’ new product flyer:

The NanoFEEP
The NanoFEEP (image credit: Morpheus Space)
The MultiFEEP
The MultiFEEP (image credit: Morpheus Space)

Now fully tested, on- and off-Earth

In December of 2018 a CubeSat developed by Morpheus and a team at the University of Würzburg was launched into orbit.

The launch was part of the University Würzburg Experimental satellite-4 (UWE-4) mission designed to test and demonstrate the use of the NanoFEEP propulsion system, in a setup specifically designed to meet the exact size and power requirements of the CubeSat.

A few weeks ago the UWE-4 satellite sent a beacon message explaining that the system was successfully used saying:

“Today, Feb 26th, at 09:59:00 UTC, one of my NanoFEEP thrusters, developed by TU Dresden and Morpheus Space, was successfully ignited! This is the first time that a 1U CubeSat has activated an electric propulsion system in space!! Primary mission: accomplished! Time to celebrate… :-)”

The UWE-4 Satellite
UWE-4 mission illustration (image credit: University of Würzburg)

In 2019 and beyond

The successful UWE-4 mission was a major stepping stone for the company, and the next stage in Morpheus’ ambitious plans. We spoke with Co-founder István Lorincz to find out a little more, who said:

“Our plans for the rest of the year are to scale up production and equip as many satellites as possible with our systems.”

Alongside these objectives Morpheus is also trying to change the space industry’s approach to small satellite missions through its technology:

“Our most important goal, which is also our mission statement, is to show the NewSpace industry that a sustainable approach to nanosatellite missions and constellations doesn’t just mean keeping the Low Earth Orbit clean by assuring a re-entry into the atmosphere.” Said István.

“If the solutions for re-entry are taken into account early on in the design process of a space mission, new possibilities open up to optimize operations of small- to large-scale constellations, which leads in the end to better, smarter business models.”

“That is why we want to change the industry standard, in which the classical roles of customer and supplier are fundamentally disconnected. We strive for a relationship with our customers and partners, in which we take an active part in the design process of each mission. This way we can modify and optimize our systems to the mission and not the other way around, where the customer obtains an inflexible product and has to adapt the whole system to it. Our biggest achievement with respect to this aspect is the way we have developed our systems, which are modular and easily modifiable without having a negative impact upon our production throughput or lead time.”

Here at satsearch we believe that a dynamic and successful space industry will be built on the sort of forward-looking and collaborative initiatives that Morpheus is bringing to the market.

Space missions are complex and challenging, and the closer that all partners can work together, the more likely they are to succeed.

Developing truly agile constellations

Morpheus’ innovative propulsion systems are also being combined with new data processing capabilities to bring some revolutionary new services to market. As István explains:

“In order to motivate the NewSpace industry to adapt our philosophy of the customer-supplier relationship we are collaborating with AI research facilities to offer a service that allows a completely new approach to the operation and design of nanosatellite constellations.”

“We call it Agile Constellations, and this service is available to all of our customers who operate our propulsion systems on their satellites.”

Morpheus’ Agile Constellations system is an AI-driven platform that can efficiently identify the best possible way to organize a complete satellite constellation based on each satellite’s capabilities, in order to achieve the necessary points-of-interest objectives.

These objectives can range from fixed revisit frequencies (temporal resolution of observation) to orienting with respect to frequently changing or moving points-of-interest.

The service is designed to open up new business opportunities for established NewSpace companies and allow new, smaller constellations to maximize their potential without unnecessarily increasing in size.

But most of all it will increase NewSpace businesses’ flexibility, which is so crucial in this industry that is evolving at such a rapid pace.

The Morpheus MultiFEEP
The Morpheus MultiFEEP on a 3U CubeSat (image credit: Morpheus Space)

Morpheus can also use its systems to provide collision detection and avoidance – making adjustments to orbiting CubeSats so that they can move out of the path of obstacles.

Avoiding collisions not only saves the individual satellite but also protects other systems, as debris resulting from a collision can lead to the entire orbit being unusable for an extended period.

Morpheus’ system enables much earlier object detection and the propulsion systems allow satellites to be moved out of the way with ease.

If operators are running multiple satellites in the same orbit then this capability could potentially save the entire constellation.

Working with satsearch

With such ambitious plans and innovative technology the satsearch team is delighted to have Morpheus as a Member on our platform.

István told us that they have been following our progress from the beginning and recognized that in many ways we are striving towards the same goals;

“to make the whole satellite mission design process easier, faster and more efficient, which is the whole point of the NewSpace movement.”

And this is about more than just wishing for more collaboration, it is about building the tools, data standards and access to information that actually enable it. As István explains;

“Being able to instantly access the necessary data about satellite components and subsystems is one of the most important aspects in the early stages of mission and system design. Obtaining this data is one of the most time-consuming processes at the beginning of each mission.”

“It takes countless emails, telecons and meetings just to properly complete a high level trade-off. Now thanks to satsearch and its initiatives, like the Membership Program and the Concurrent Design Platform integration, every party involved will save a lot of time and effort.”

Collaboration at NASA

Where next for space?

We are always interested in understanding from those in the industry where they think it is going to go next. István kindly shared his thoughts on this question with us:

“Obviously, the most interesting trend for us is the emergence of viable electric propulsion systems for nanosatellites. These systems are very new to the industry and most nanosatellite operators are just starting to play around with the idea of being able to control each satellite in orbit. It will take a little time and effort from all of us in the propulsion scene until we will build up enough trust (pun intended!) to reach a point where these subsystems will be considered as essential as a sun sensor, magnetorquer or reaction wheel.”

“I believe we will also see a new trend where the micro launchers will become the go-to orbital transports for all kinds of nanosat missions, since the satellites won’t be dependent anymore on the big rockets to deliver them in their desired orbit altitude. For example, being able to raise the orbit from 250 km to 600 km within a couple of weeks would not only significantly lower the launch costs, but it would also enable agile constellation design, meaning that you could continuously adapt your orbits as you add new satellites to the constellation.”

“In every industry, one of the most exciting periods is where a new technology gets introduced, because nobody can foresee its full potential and total impact.”

And in this exciting period we are very pleased to have Morpheus Space on board and are looking forward to supporting their future plans and initiatives!

For more information on Morpheus Space, please view their profile here on the satsearch platform, or to find out more about the Satsearch Membership Program, including how your business can join, please view this page.

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