Small satellites might have a big future ahead of them as organisations begin to opt for small satellites to test new technology in space. Clusters of satellites can also work together to perform the tasks of a larger satellite, with potentially lower cost and risk.
The PRoject for OnBoard Autonomy 2, or PROBA 2, is a satellite dedicated to the demonstration of innovative technologies. Proba 2 is one of the smallest spacecraft ever to be flown by ESA, but is expected to make a huge impact on the field of space technology. The Proba satellites are part of ESA’s In orbit Technology Demonstration Programme: missions dedicated to the latest step on the technology development ladder. New technology products need to be demonstrated in orbit, particularly when users require evidence of flight heritage or when there is a high risk associated with use of the new technology. Small, low-cost missions like the PROBA series allow small companies access to space and provide them with the necessary experience that is essential for European industries to remain competitive and innovative. Technology demonstration will be achieved for two highly innovative Dutch products from TNO and Bradford Engineering. A digital sun sensor will pave the way for future advanced attitude control systems. Meanwhile a xenon gas propulsion system with resistojet thrusters and a solid-state nitrogen gas generator for pressurisation will provide a flight-test for the latest Dutch space technology.
CubeSats could play a large role in the Netherlands in the near future by using and driving the market for miniaturised space systems. Students at the Delft University of Technology launched CubeSat Delfi-C3 in 2008 and the TU is now busy with its follow-up Delfi n3Xt. Delfi-C3 had experiments onboard including an autonomous wireless sun sensor from TNO, a thin film solar cell experiment from Dutch Space and a CubeSat Radio Amateur Transponder. Delfi n3Xt will advance the existing Delfi-C3 technology with the addition of 3-axis attitude control, high speed data communication and a battery system for eclipse operations. Furthermore, five exciting innovative payloads will be onboard. These payloads are: a micro-thruster system from TNO, TU Delft and UTwente, a multifunctional particle spectrometer from Cosine Research BV, degradation research on solar cells from DIMES, a high efficiency transceiver from ISIS and a data storage experiment from NLR. This set of payloads establishes an exciting combination of space-qualification and scientific research in a nano-satellite of only 30 cm x10 cm x10 cm. The Netherlands is also home to a unique SME, ISIS, fully dedicated to the small, but growing market surrounding small satellites.