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Finnish start-up Aurora powers the small satellite sector

The explosive growth of small and micro satellites is fuelling a burgeoning miniature spacecraft subsystem industry. Among those successfully fulfilling this need is start-up Aurora Propulsion Technologies, currently based at ESA’s Business Incubation Centre at Espoo in Finland where it is pioneering vital new component designs. 

The boom in small satellites is being made possible by the ready availability of components such as modular satellite frames, on-board computers and power systems. Next in line now are the propulsion and attitude adjustment modules. 

One of the pioneers in this micro propulsion and attitude control industry is Finnish start-up Aurora Propulsion Technologies. Aurora is an early entrant in the Finnish space ecosystem that is being driven by the national “New Space Economy” programme, placing it among a small group of companies that are responsible for the current buzz around space in Finland. 

Aurora Propulsion Technologies makes electric micro-tether-based Plasma Brakes. The Plasma Brake induces an electric field around itself to cause a drag from the ambient plasma in low Earth orbit. This drag can be used to slow down and deorbit a satellite at the end of its useful life.

Riding the power-train

Aurora provides the whole power-train for satellites, from steering to engines and brakes. This includes attitude and orbit manoeuvring thrusters and multi-thruster modules, as well as their control systems. Aurora’s Plasma Brake modules can be used for the end-of-life deorbiting of a satellite, even if the satellite experiences a total system failure. 

In future, the ambient plasma-based tether system used in the Plasma Brake will be developed into a solar electric sail, enabling interplanetary and deep-space missions for small – even cube – satellites, as they will have no need for any propellant.

Opening space to more businesses

The key requirements in the small satellite industry are low weight, small volume and low power consumption. These in combination enable smaller, lighter satellites to support bigger missions, all of which gives satellite builders better opportunities for access to space.

Both micro-thrusters and attitude and orbital control systems (AOCS), as supplied by Aurora, are crucial elements in enabling fast and cost-effective business missions to be performed using small satellites, right down to sub-cube size. 

 “Our customers are looking to use their satellites to prove or implement their business in space. Our ability to address their key needs and our mass-customisable platforms allow us to do it in a fraction of the time it took in the past,” says Aurora’s CEO Roope Takala.

Building a unicorn from tiny components

In start-up company incubation, companies that have the drive and a business idea to potentially grow into a 100 million euro business are referred to as unicorns. Since its launch, ESA BIC Finland has attracted a complementary and active group of potential unicorns into its incubator in Espoo. In a significant step towards that goal, Aurora has an In-Orbit-Demonstration (IoD) mission for its Plasma Brakes, thrusters and AOCS planned for December 2020. The Aurora team is now looking for partners to join the ride to the stars with them. 

About ESA Space Solutions

ESA Space Solutions is the go-to-place for great business ideas involving space in all areas of society and economy. Our mission is to support entrepreneurs in Europe in the development of business using satellite applications and space technology to improve everyday life.  Our programme is designed to provide multiple entry points such as ESA Business Incubation Centres (ESA BICs), ESA Technology Transfer Brokers, and the ESA Business Applications programme.

Funding typically ranges from 50KEuro to 2MEuro and supports everything from space technology transfer, early stage incubation programs, feasibility studies to large-scale demonstration projects.

27 May 2020
Last updated at 04 June 2020 - 11:10