The Netherlands is a hub for miniaturisation within the space field. The TU Delft’s nano-satellites push the envelope of small-scale exploration and companies like Bradford engineering, TNO and ISIS continuously develop and provide small scale solutions for space-based problems. From a tiny propulsion system that will fit in your hand to fingernail sized sun sensor technology, what used to be a field all about big has realized that it’s all about efficiency, preferably via Dutch technology advances.
The MicroNed programme, funded by the Dutch government, aims to increase, spread and apply knowledge in the field of Micro Systems Technology (MST) and MEMS. Innovative research, bundling of knowledge and infrastructure, a close collaboration between research institutes and industry, distribution of acquired knowledge and further collaboration on education in the field of MST has already provided the Netherlands with a leading position in the industrial application of these technologies. As a part of MicroNed, a cluster of experts is working to create a micro satellite based entirely on innovative miniaturized technology and with an emphasis on lower mass, lower volume, lower power and enhanced flexibility and re-configurability. Within this project, tiny miniaturized solutions for a satellite bus, payload system, spacecraft architecture, formation flying system and sensor-acquisition systems are being developed.
Miniaturisation is essential to the future of space flight because it allows use of similar or identical micro satellite busses as platforms for missions with widely varied combinations of payload instruments. Producing flexible, reconfigurable and small platforms will keep the number of missions at a high and the cost at a low. The space field is, after all, built around launches where weight determines cost and where currently if anything goes wrong at launch an entire mission can be lost. Creating many individual micro-satellites that then work together spreads risk and decreases launch load while maintaining or even advancing technology and research potential.