Small Satellite Unit

Argotec designs and builds small satellites. They can be used as a useful space experimental kit in order to obtain useful scientific data or deliver commercial services.

Small Satellite Unit (SSU)

Small satellites have become increasingly common in recent years. They have a low mass and size, usually under 500 kg. Therefore, they are smaller than conventional satellites and they can be classified according to mass. Devices of this scale can be used as a useful space experimental kit in order to obtain useful scientific data or deliver commercial services. At present, several small-sized satellites are already successfully operating in the low Earth orbit, conducting scientific research in many fields. However, these tiny devices can also lower the costs and the risks of future missions in the outer space. This is one of the main objectives of our research on small satellites.

Small satellites have become increasingly common in recent years. They have a low mass and size, usually under 500 kg. A microsat has a mass between 10 kg and 500 kg, a nanosat (such as ArgoMoon) between 1 kg and 10 kg and a picosat between 0.1 kg and 1 kg. Devices of this scale can be used as a useful space experimental kit in order to obtain useful scientific data or deliver commercial services.

At present, several small-sized satellites are already successfully operating in the low Earth orbit, conducting scientific research in many fields. However, during the Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1) ArgoMoon and other nanosatellites will be used in deep space for the first time. In fact, these tiny devices can lower the costs and the risks of future missions in the outer space. Furthermore, the miniaturized satellites can also get involved in the space exploration universities and private enterprises.

Credits by NASA

ArgoMoon uses a standard format of nanosat known as CubeSat, a 10cm cube. These devices are built to standard dimensions (Units or “U”) of 10x10x11cm to provide 1 liter of useful volume. They can be 1U, 2U, 3U, or 6U in size, and typically weigh less than 1,33 kg per U. These small-sized satellites are often placed in low Earth orbits in groups called swarms and they have traditionally been launched as secondary payloads on larger launch vehicles.

At present, more than 1000 nanosats are projected to be launched until 2020. Currently, communications and propulsion are two important limiting factors in low Earth orbit (LEO), together with the generally short working life and the reduced hardware-carrying capacity. Furthermore, going beyond LEO changes the limiting factors as they no longer have the magnetic field of our planet for protection. From this point of view, thanks to ArgoMoon, our aerospace engineers will be able to test their innovations and solutions in deep-space.

NASA has selected several miniaturized satellites for space research, such as ArgoMoon, for flight on the Space Launch System (SLS) demonstration flight, that is scheduled to lift off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at the end of 2018 (Exploration Mission 1, EM-1). The SLS will launch an unmanned Orion capsule on a flight around the moon.

Credits by NASA

A second SLS flight is scheduled for no later than 2023 (Exploration Mission 2, EM-2), with astronauts on board.

SLS is a powerful and advanced vehicle. It will launch crews of up to four astronauts in the Orion spacecraft on missions to explore deep-space destinations. It will offer more payload mass, volume capability and energy to speed missions through space than any current launch vehicle. The first SLS vehicle, called Block 1, has a lift capability of at least 77-tons. It will be powered by twin five-segment solid rocket boosters and four RS-25 liquid propellant engines, as well as a modified version of an existing upper stage.

The next planned evolution of the SLS, Block 1B, will use a new, more powerful Exploration Upper Stage (EUS) to deliver a 115-ton lift capacity. A later evolution, Block 2, would replace the current five-segment boosters with a pair of advanced solid or liquid propellant boosters to provide a 143-ton lift capacity. In each configuration, SLS will continue to use the same core stage design with four RS-25 engines.

The Orion spacecraft will carry the crews to space, provide emergency abort capability, sustain the astronauts during the space travel, and provide safe re-entry from deep space return velocities.

This uncrewed test consisted of a two-orbit, four-hour flight that tested many of the systems most critical to safety. Using the Block 1 configuration, the first SLS mission (EM-1) will launch an uncrewed Orion spacecraft that will pass the Moon on a free trajectory to demonstrate the integrated system performance of the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft prior to a crewed flight. The second SLS mission (EM-2) will launch Orion with a crew of up to four astronauts on a mission to the vicinity of the moon. The Block 1B vehicle will be used to launch humans on even more ambitious missions to the “proving ground” of space near and beyond the moon, testing the systems needed for the journey to Mars. The next evolved configuration, called Block 2, will be the workhorse vehicle for assembling a human mission to Mars.

ArgoMoon: the Italian excellence at one “click” from the Moon

ArgoMoon, a nanosatellite for deep space, built by Argotec and coordinated by the Italian Space Agency, has been selected by NASA as a payload for the forthcoming Exploration Mission 1.

Turin/Rome, February 2, 2016 – ArgoMoon will be the Italian nanosatellite to represent Europe in the forthcoming NASA Exploration Mission. In fact, the US space agency has described the first mission of the Space Launch System (SLS), which is expected at the end of 2018. The Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1) represents the second test flight of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, a spacecraft currently being developed by NASA, that will be used in the human exploration of asteroids and cislunar spaces, in view of a future landings on Mars.

Among the CubeSats, chosen by NASA for the deep space exploration, there is ArgoMoon, a nanosatellite that will be entirely designed and built by Argotec, the Italian engineering company that is specialized in research and development of aerospace systems. The Italian Space Agency (ASI) will coordinate the project ArgoMoon, the only one selected by NASA among those proposed in Europe, showing the status of excellence that Italy achieved in space research.

In the great challenge of exploration, which is communal to all of the space agencies in the world – says Gabriele Mascetti, head of the Human Flight and Microgravity Unity at the Italian Space Agency – such as the journey of humankind to Mars, ASI continues to stay at the forefront, promoting and supporting the scientific and technological excellences of our country. The choice of ArgoMoon by NASA further strengthens the Italy’s prestigious role alongside the main countries that are leading space activities.

The use of nanosatellites has increased considerably in recent years, thanks to the reduced costs, that are due to the small sizes as well as the use of some commercial components. The challenge of Argotec engineers will be to study and implement in a reduced volume several Italian technological solutions, which will have to be highly reliable for a deep space mission.

ArgoMoon will take several historically significant pictures of the EM-1 mission and it will test some innovative communication systems. This is a unique opportunity for technological research in the nanosat field, the results of which will allow new solutions to be obtained while also providing theablity to extend the use of nanosatellites in forthcoming explorations and to support Earth observation with reduced costs.

Another important and significant step for an Italian SME – says David Avino, Managing Director of Argotec – which has always focused on research and innovation in the space sector. Our engineers are working to develop a new concept of nanosatellite using innovative materials as well as to integrate, in a volume with the dimensions of a shoe box, some of our systems and Italian technologies.

The CubeSats are the drones of the future and we will be the first to test them so far away from Earth, in the extreme conditions of a translunar orbit.

IT-Press Release


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