Autonomous CubeSat Propulsion for Affordable Access to Space

Silvana Radu, Angelo Cervone, A Pasini, D. Valentini, G. Pace

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceedings/Edited volumeConference contributionScientific


Miniaturized spacecraft, such as the well-known CubeSats, have become more and more popular in the last decade, allowing for dramatic reductions of the mission costs. However, it is not fully clear at the present moment which access to space option is the most convenient and affordable one for this class of satellites, with micro-launchers still penalized by their intrinsically bad structural efficiency and propulsion performance. It seems to be preferable to use onboard propulsion for the orbital transfer of these small spacecraft after being inserted in Low Earth Orbit as a piggyback payload of a larger launcher. However, in turn, this increased autonomy due to the presence of a propulsion system raises significant issues in terms of safety to the other surrounding spacecraft in orbit. Strict measures are expected to be applied in the future regulations, in scenarios such as a thrust-direction failure in a small spacecraft, with consequent damage to other spacecraft creating debris. This problem becomes even more critical in Low Earth Orbit due to the presence of the International Space Station. This paper presents a general overview of the current access to space options for small satellites, and the existing propulsion technology for their orbital transfer. A preliminary analysis is performed on the design requirements related to potential scenarios and recovery actions related to propulsion system failures for small satellites operating in Low Earth Orbit.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationIAF 70th International Astronautical Congress
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 2019
Event70th International Astronautical Congress, IAC 2019 - Washington, United States
Duration: 21 Oct 201925 Oct 2019
Conference number: 70

Publication series

NameProceedings of the International Astronautical Congress, IAC
PublisherInternational Astronautical Federation, IAF
ISSN (Print)0074-1795


Conference70th International Astronautical Congress, IAC 2019
Abbreviated titleIAC 2019
CountryUnited States
OtherThe proceedings will be provided to all participants on
the first day of the Congress.
Internet address

Bibliographical note

The proceedings will be provided to all participants on
the first day of the Congress.


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