Last September, PolyOrbite participated in the 67th International Astronomical Congress (IAC) in Guadalajara Mexico. The IAC regroups all the actors of the space industry and is held in a different country each year. The congress in divided into two categories of events: the technical sessions and the associated events.
It’s during the technical sessions, and more precisely within the “New Missions Enabled by New Propulsion Technology and Systems” category, that PolyOrbite presented an article on our ion thruster: “Manufacturing Compact Electrospray Thrusters to Deorbit a Nanosatellite”.
The associated events were large assemblies where industry leaders showcase their technological advancements and future projects.
This year, all eyes were on Mars. A few examples are NASA’s presentation on the objectives for their Space Launch System and the European Space Agencies’ moon village concept to replace the International Space Station after 2024. This would facilitate the transition from low earth orbit to Mars.
The most popular event was clearly the long awaited “Mars Plan” announcement by SpaceX CEO Elon musk entitled: “Making Humans a Multiplanetary Species”. The event went over the different technologies that will need to be developed to colonize Mars like massive COPV tanks, in-orbit refueling, and rapidly reusable rockets. All this in order to bring the cost of “moving to Mars” under 200 000$ USD.
This year’s AIC included a very large contingency of companies working in the emerging nanosat and CubeSat industries. An Italian company by the name of D-orbit stood out by proposing liquid and solid propulsion systems for CubeSats as well as a CubeSat dispenser capable of delivering up to 27 units of CubeSats.
With the congress now over, we can see two major stories developing in the space industry. Firstly, the race for Mars has officially started and it’s no longer a question of “if we’re going to Mars” but rather “when will we get there”. Secondly, a slow but steady decrease in price for access to space is driving many new companies out of the darkness. Cubesats are on the rise and PolyOrbite is in the middle of it all.
Next year’s IAC will take place in Adelaide, Australia, and PolyOrbite will once again be present at this amazing event to share our work and learn from others.
IonDrop, our second payload is an electrospray thruster, a technology based on the acceleration of ions through an electric field.
The propellant is an ionic liquid confined in a porous glass tank, the liquid reaches by capillarity a nickel porous substrate which is in contact with the porous glass. This nickel part has a very thin porosity with a pore size that does not exceed 2 microns and is covered with micro emitters with a height of 100 micrometres that will be soaked with the ionic liquid.
At a distance of 300 microns, a grid drilled with micro-holes provides the magnetic field with the porous nickel emitters on the other side and lets the accelerated ions pass through the holes. This grid (250 microns in diameter and 150 microns in thickness) is one of the key parts for this thruster design because it initiates the thrust. Thus, an extremely precise manufacturing process is required to realize it.
Potomac Photonic is the partner of PolyOrbite that will make this payload possible by creating this part. The newly formed partnership between Photonic Potomac and PolyOrbite is a vary valuable one and, hopefully, it will help PolyOrbite in this and future challenges. The resulting thruster will provide a thrust of 50 micro-Newton, a really small amount on paper, but still sufficient to decelerate the satellite of 150 m/s over long periods (2 weeks or more).
Miniaturizing the electrospray thruster technology is of fundamental importance for nanosatellites because it will allow them to change their orbit and to increase the number of applications realizable with CubeSats. With an Isp of almost 3000s, these thrusters are really efficient and can perform many different tasks, from attitude control to interplanetary propulsion. The thruster design developed by PolyOrbite is specifically meant for CubeSat and it it small enough that four such thrusters can fit on one end of a small satellite.
Less than one year after its creation, PolyOrbite was already represented at the annual International Astronautical Congress (IAC) held in Beijing, China, with our associates from the Bologna University of Italia. It occurred in the last week of September, from the 23rd to the 27th. As described by the IAC’s official website, “The IAC is the one place and time of the year when all space actors come together”. Professional from all over the world meet at this very event to share the latest information on space and spatial technologies and make contacts over an elaborated range of symposiums, conferences, plenaries and mere discussions.
This year, our Project Lead, Étienne Bourbeau, and our Mechanical Team Lead, Mark Smyth, presented an article about our satellite’s main missions, which consist of reducing orbital detritus over time and study the geomorphology of the Baffin’s island, North Canada. They also gave an overall description of every subsystem to be used in the satellite and described the functioning of our collaboration with the University of Bologna and our educational outreach for different age groups.
Apart from the presentation itself, contacts were made with different professionals and universities throughout the globe. For instance, our members had the opportunity to talk to the Lithuanian Space Agency’s Director, make a collaboration with an aerospace professor from the University of Bologna, Italia, regarding the antennas, and acquire precious information from Polish, Scottish, German, Romanian and Italian university representatives, only to name some of them.
On a lighter note, the communication was more difficult than expected. Our members constantly had to draw pictograms in order to be understood, which considerably complicated their traveling: ‘’We are lucky they understand Arabic numbers!’’ said Étienne Bourbeau, Project Lead, ‘’Otherwise, it would have been impossible for us to find our way through this city’’.
In short, we are all very proud of this achievement, which, in itself, truly is an innovation from an École Polytechnique de Montréal’s technical society. This experience greatly benefits all of us with international collaborations. We are looking forward to the next edition of the International Astronautical Congress.