Aurora Propulsion Technologies Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is Aurora Propulsion Technologies?
A: Aurora Propulsion Technologies Oy is a space start-up company founded in September 2018 in Espoo Finland. Our Office is located at the European Space Agency (ESA) Incubation Centre (ESABIC Finland) in Otaniemi High Tech Campus.

Q: What does Aurora Propulsion Technologies actually do?
A: Aurora makes components and modules for small satellites. These devices allow the satellites to control their own position (altitude and speed) and orientation (attitude) in space. With these capabilities satellites can move to new orbits, target their cameras and scientific instruments or even fly to the moon, other planets or beyond.  We provide also highly customizable and easily adaptable software products for satellite simulation environment.

Q: What is a small satellite?
A: A satellite, or a device orbiting the earth, with a total mass less than 500 kg. Most small satellites are used for earth observation or communications.

Q: What is the size of the thruster & braking systems?
A: Both of them are squeezed into ⅓ U CubeSat form, meaning that they fit into a space 10 by 10 by 3 centimeters in size.

Q: What does Aurora use as fuel?
A: Aurora products use many technologies for propulsion and different technologies provide different services to customers. Plasma Brakes and Electric Sails are propellantless devices and only use small amounts of electricity. They generate an electric field that catches onto upper atmospheric plasma or solar wind to create thrust. The attitude control thrusters use water as the propellant.

Q: How big is Aurora?
A: We’re currently 17 people and we are growing.

Q: How can Aurora help to extend satellite mission time?
A: Aurora engines are can be used to boost orbits that decay over time. Orbit decay is caused by the thin gases in the very outer edge of the earth atmosphere causing drag on the satellite. For example, the International Space Station ISS fires its engines about every three weeks to keep its orbit at the desired average of 400 km above ground. Similarly, Aurora engines can be used to boost satellites back to their desired orbits. The propellant we carry can postpone the satellite orbit decay by pushing the satellite back to its intended orbit several times. Aurora can help satellites up to double their useful life.

Q: What is a Plasma Brake?
A: Plasma Brake is a module produced by Aurora that slows down the satellite and eventually brings it to atmosphere where it burns away without leaving any harmful debris in space around the Earth. Plasma Brake consist of a tether made of extremely thin metal wire that is deployed as a 300 m to 5 km long tehter into space. The tether interacts electrically with the surrounding plasma, causing drag that de-orbits the satellite by slowing it down.

Q: Why is the braking capability so important?
A: As an increasing number of satellites are launched every year, it becomes very important to control the amount of debris that they produce at the end of the mission. This overcrowding of space with debris is called the Kessler effect, in media. The best way to for satellite manufacturers to control the amount of obsolete satellites and debris on their part, is to incorporate a braking system in each satellite that takes them down to the atmosphere and completely burn them away as an artificial shooting star.

Q: What is a solar sail?
A: A solar sail is a reflecting large membrane, like a space blanket, that bounces photons (particles of light) off like a mirror. In changing the direction of the light particle its momentum is transferred into the sail which causes the sail to move in the direction the photons hit it.

Q: What is the difference between a solar sail and an electric sail?
A: A solar sail is essentially a big mirror that bounces light to generate thrust. In practice, it’s a large thin sheet of a reflective material, such as Mylar. The electric sail only consists of very thin wires called tethers, that are electrically charged. Manufacturing and opening these tethers are hugely simpler than opening a sheet, and they are also much lighter in large scales. The thrust generated by the solar sail also reduces more rapidly as you get further away from the sun. Close to Earth’s orbit, the e-sail is about 10 times lighter than the solar sail for the same thrust, and this advantage gets larger as you get further away from the Sun. Aurora Propulsion Technologies produces solar electric sails.

Q: What is a resistojet?
A: Resistojet is a spacecraft propulsion method.  In a resistojet a fluid is heated with electricity to produce superheated gas which is passed through nozzles to produce thrust. Resistojets have been widely used since 1965 and are in use in e.g. Iridium communication satellites. Use cases include small orbit changes and attitude control. Resistojets suit best for cases where available power is large compared to required thrust and high degree of control is desired.

Q: What are the main strengths that Aurora has compared to its competitors?
A: Aurora uses mass manufacturing technologies that allow for a consistent quality of product and service. Unlike the competitors who make single products to order, Aurora will carry a stock of standard products that can be delivered at a moments notice. This gives Aurora the shortest delivery times in the industry. Our software products for satellite simulation environment, help design satellite missions and satellites. They are highly customizable and easily adaptable.

Q: When is the Plasma Brake available for the market?
A: The Plasma Brake is available for deliveries during the first half of 2020. You can already now make the preliminary enquiries using the Plasma Brake Calculator on our website. If you plan to design your own plasma brake, the key component, the tether, is available for delivery during fourth quarter of 2019.

Q: When is the Propulsion Module available for the market?
A: The standard one thruster propulsion module is available for lead customer deliveries during the last quarter of 2019. The larger up to 12 thruster ADCS module will be available for delivery during second half of 2020

Q: How is Aurora achieving such high reliability?
A: Aurora reliability is based on the use of standard well understood mass manufacturing technologies and a highly integrated design done with a design philosophy that targets specifically repeatable high quality. Naturally our quality system and process are built to ensure the consistency of our product’s quality.

Q: How is Aurora achieving such cost competitiveness?
A: Aurora has designed its product for mass production. This means that we have optimized our design so that manufacture and assembly can be automated for a more consistent quality. At the same time this design philosophy shaves of all extra components and fidgety assembly work and allows for series production pushing down the cost.