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The University of Southampton

Research project: CubeSat de-orbit ALl-printed Propulsion System (Cube de ALPS)

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This project aims to develop a novel standalone deorbiting propulsion system, known as ALl-printed Propulsion System (ALPS), using printed electronics and thin-layer vacuum arc thruster technology and to innovate a micropropulsion system for nano- / micro-satellites. This will enable failsafe and timely deorbit and provide a spacecraft-independent, safe, and timely deorbit capability. The successful development of ALPS will open the new era for the mass production of a micropropulsion system through employed printed electronics and advanced nanomaterial technologies.

ALl-printed Propulsion Systems (ALPSs) are complete standalone propulsion system packages that may be stuck to the side of a CubeSat to provide a spacecraft-independent, safe, and timely deorbit/recovery capability. Recent advancements in embedded flexible electronics, thin film energy storage, and printing technologies enable propulsion subsystems to be integrated into a thin flexible monolithic package: ALPS. The overall concept of the ALPS is a complete standalone propulsion system using metallic propellant. Supporting subsystems are embedded in the substrate or printed on the surface as required, including high-energy-density micro-lithium ion batteries (orsupercapacitor) and communication (antenna/receiver) and control electronics. The resulting independent propulsion system can be attached to any spacecraft and likely mass-produced to achieve low cost.

ALPSs will enable fail-safe deorbit of small satellites. Numerous future ESA missions, as well as government and industry missions, will be composed of “mega-constellations” with 1,000s of CubeSat class spacecraft. Some of these spacecraft will likely be unresponsive

upon deployment, or “dead on arrival (DOA)”. Unresponsive spacecraft need to be deorbited as soon as possible to protect and maintain a sustainable orbital environment. CubeSat de-orbiting ALlprinted Propulsion System (Cube-de-ALPS) provides this capability by enabling controlled re-entry and safe recovery of CubeSat class spacecraft or reducing a spacecraft's orbital lifetime by a factor of ten.

Associated research themes

Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering

Related research groups

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