We’ve just finished three excellent days at the 4th ESA CubeSat Industry Days event. Held in our hometown of Noordwijk in the Netherlands, at the Space Research and Technology Centre of the European Space Agency (ESA/ESTEC), the conference brought together 260 industry experts from across Europe to discuss the latest developments in the sector.
During this fourth installment of this event, it became abundantly clear that there is a growing appetite for next-generation CubeSats that push the boundaries of what small platforms enable for near-Earth and deep space applications.
We were there for the whole event, along with some of our partners, members, and friends. For those that couldn’t make it, we’ve put together a few thoughts in this article. There were lots of great presentations and discussions during the three days; this article serves to highlight the ones that stood out to us.
Laser communication for CubeSats
One of the early talks on the first day was given by Bert Monna, CEO of satsearch member Hyperion Technologies.
The talk was entitled “How laser communication will change the CubeSat market” and provided insights into how optical transmission can help address the growing need for greater bandwidth to and from orbit.
Bert discussed Hyperion’s work with the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO) to develop CubeCat, a high-bandwidth laser communication system that can fit in a 1U CubeSat, requiring less than 15 W power.
3D printed CubeSat components
At the event, it was clear that one area of the industry that has seen significant progress in recent years is 3D printing of components. As additive manufacturing technology improves and small satellites are increasingly designed to be modular, there is scope for gradually more complex structures, parts and sub-system components to be rapidly produced in this way.
As an example, satsearch member Anywaves presented their patented 3D-printed CubeSat antenna portfolio.
The company is developing a range of antenna systems that are compact, light, high-performance, and affordable, with S-band and X-band models available and GNSS all-band and deployable helix options in development.
Building a universal ontology for CubeSats
Also, on the first day of the event satsearch CEO Kartik Kumar delivered a talk entitled “Developing a universal ontology for CubeSat systems”.
In his presentation, Kartik touched on the work that satsearch is undertaking to build a universal language for the global CubeSat supply chain. By defining a unified ontology and developing an ontology-based supply chain database, a whole host of new applications open up, including:
- Mission analysis and design automation
- Deep business intelligence and market insight
- Advanced space debris collision and fragmentation risk analysis
The full slide deck for the presentation is available here.
GSTP Fly program in support of Cubesat
On Day 2, Kenza Benamar who manages ESA’s General Support Technology Programme (GSTP) Fly program, gave an overview of the agency’s various programs to support In-Orbit Demonstration (IOD) missions.
ESA has a number of different programs and funding mechanisms to support CubeSat system and mission development. Some of these programs require support letters from national delegations (like GSTP) and others don’t (like Technology Development Element (TDE)).
The GSTP programme consists of three main elements:
Ms. Benamar provided more details about the “Fly” element that can also be found on the ESA website. As stated on the ESA website:
“ESA has established Element 3 of its General Support Technology Programme (GSTP) in order to give companies access to the relevant flight environment in the shortest time possible, by embarking flight demonstrators as hosted payloads on a variety of carriers – including suborbital rockets, launchers, satellites and the ISS – with all the onboard resources they need to operate – such as mass, volume, power, data interfaces and so on.“
A number of other talks caught our attention. Here’s a quick round-up:
Ka-band ISL for small satellites by Antwerp Space touched on the topic of Inter-Satellite Links (ISL) and the opportunities to enable distributed and formation flying missions.
Reconfigurable Compact CubeSat Antenna by Università Pisa provided an overview of a truly innovative concept to exploit the CubeSat structure itself as a reconfigurable antenna.
InOrbit NOW: an innovative suite of CubeSat Services by D-Orbit provided an overview of the various services offered by the Italian SME for the CubeSat market, including a free-flying platform that can deploy a small constellation in a single launch.
MIURA 5 – The European reusable microlauncher for CubeSats and small satellites by PLD Space summarized the current status of the microlauncher family being developed by the Spanish company, targeting the dedicated, piggyback, and rideshare market for CubeSats.
Exploring new frontiers – CubeSats for deep space missions by GomSpace provided a summary of the ground-breaking CubeSats missions that they are working on, including Juventas, part of ESA’s Hera mission, and M-ARGO.
The last day of the conference was largely dedicated to Working Groups (WG); an opportunity to actively engage with the community on a number of different topics pertaining to CubeSats. A host of topics were explored but the main one that caught our attention was WG 4: “Model-Based Systems Engineering (MBSE) and autonomy for CubeSats”.
A few of the conclusions from this WG include:
- Making risk trades for Cubesats is new and it’s not clear how to implement this in MBSE
- Concurrent development of platform and payload for Cubesats is common because timelines are short
- Cubesat complexity is significant for constellations and something new compared to classical systems
- Requirements knowledge and traceability are important for Cubesats
- Cubesat projects are low-cost and there’s not a lot of resources for systems engineering, so general people tend to do less of it
- MBSE can help to manage this through efficiency, letting systems engineers focus on the work they need to do
- MBSE helps enable better communication within teams
- MBSE is an enabler for future missions and system development, where complexity onboard and on the ground is higher (“system of systems” for e.g., constellations, formation flying)
- MBSE can help with architecture definition, providing different views of systems, mapping system behaviour, and generating a model representation of the functionality side of a CubeSat
This year’s event also included an opportunity for companies to exhibit their products and services in the Newton conference area. This provided ample opportunity for the community to discover the latest innovation hitting the market, discuss opportunities for collaboration and partnership, and even prospect and close business deals!
BONUS: Propulsion4CubeSats workshop
As a bonus, after the main conference, a dedicated workshop was held on Friday 7th June, 2019 at ESTEC to discuss exciting work on propulsion for CubeSats. The Propulsion4CubeSats workshop featured over twenty talks by ESA staff, industry representatives, and academics.
This versatile product uses iodine propellant without requiring any electrodes or grids, for a simple “plug & forget” operation. REGULUS is designed to give smallsats greater mobility in orbit, enabling precision orbits, better collision avoidance, more controlled de-orbiting operations and other new capabilities.
The 4th ESA CubeSat Industry Days event was a resounding success, bringing together ESA staff, industry experts, and academics from across Europe. The event included a myriad of talks about cutting-edge technologies, systems, missions, and services being developed by small and large enterprises. Additionally, the exhibition floor and Working Groups provided an excellent platform for community engagement, highlighting the growing interest in developing the next-generation of frontier CubeSat missions for near-Earth and deep space applications.
We were thrilled to have the opportunity to share our story, as we continue on our quest to build the global marketplace for space by digitalizing the global space supply chain. It was also great to meet both old friends, partners, and satsearch members, and develop new, exciting relationships.
Over the coming weeks, we will be shedding light on some of the key relationships that we developed during the event. If you’d like more information about the conference, check out the website, where the proceedings will be made available.
Next stop for us is the Paris Air Lab, hosted at the Paris Air Show at Le Brouget, where we’ll be exhibiting on 20th of June along with a number of other exciting startups. Stay tuned for our event report in a few weeks!