ESA to finance the creation of a low-orbit satellite demonstrator

ESA will allocate 2.3 million euros to Thales Alenia Space for the development of the Skimsat demonstrator: a small satellite platform designed to operate in very low Earth orbit (VLEO).

What is a very low Earth orbit

VLEO orbits include orbits which height is 250-450 km. They are of considerable interest to many companies. For example, satellites in VLEO orbit can make more detailed images of the Earth’s surface. Another example is communication devices. A lower height allows it to reduce the signal delay and increase its power, which is good for services that provide data transmission.

However, such orbits also have one very significant disadvantage, which does not yet allow them to realize all their potential advantages. We are talking about a serious retarding effect from the Earth’s atmosphere. Because of it, a spacecraft in VLEO orbit needs to constantly make course corrections to maintain altitude.

Skimsat Platform

The Skimsat platform can change the status quo. The current plan assumes that its demonstrator will be launched into an orbit with a height of less than 300 km. It will use electric traction to compensate for the braking effect of the earth’s atmosphere and hold its position. The demonstrator is planned to be used to take pictures of the Earth’s surface. If the experiment is successful, a satellite designed to study the thermosphere will be created based on Skimsat. Its data will improve the accuracy of weather forecasts.

Skimsat platform (concept). Source: Thales Alenia Space

It is worth noting that in addition to ESA, the British company QinetiQ is also engaged in financing Skimsat. Since the project is in the very early stages of development, the demonstrator does not have a launch date yet.

You can also read about the recent deal to buy the British aerospace startup Northern Space and Security.

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