Small satellites at international ESA/CNES symposium

September 16, 2004

Paris, 15 Sep 2004

More than 200 experts from 25 countries meet next week to discuss small satellites and what can be achieved with them, at the ESA/CNES Small Satellite Systems and Services Symposium in France. "Small satellites have today an impact on the space business. They give us the possibility to test and demonstrate innovative and advanced technologies in space, at modest cost, before using the technologies on more expensive missions," explains Luca Maresi, ESA System Engineer and co-organiser of the symposium.

"Our 94 kg Proba-1 satellite successfully tested several innovative technologies for future missions, such as onboard processing and autonomous operation, while our 367 kg SMART-1, on its way to the moon, demonstrates ion engines and miniaturised instruments. Next month the ESA/NIVR Sloshsat-FLEVO will be launched to investigate fluid behaviour in weightlessness."

Started in 1992, this year's Satellite Systems and Services Symposium, known as the 4S Symposium, is the sixth in the series, and will take place from 20 to 24 September in La Rochelle, France. The topics covered range from the application of small satellites for space science and Earth observation, to the analysis of the management and organisation of small satellite projects. A large session is entirely dedicated to the technologies and subsystems specifically developed for small satellites, while another session will address launchers. Promising perspective and niche markets Technologies and the industrial landscape have changed since the first 4S symposium with more suppliers of components and subsystems, opening up new perspectives for satellite builders and generating new niche markets. Some questions difficult to address during the earlier pioneering phase can now be discussed such as: can traditional missions be achieved with lower cost small satellites and what are the prospects for commercial exploitation of small satellites?

At the same time the technology and market evolution over the last decade has significantly changed the space business. Many companies that supplied specific electronic components for space have now stopped production because of the low profitability of the space market compared to consumer electronics. Very few can afford the high non-recurrent cost of developing radiation-hardened components while keeping pace with the fast technology evolution. At the same time, many institutional programmes are experiencing tight budgets and scheduling pressures.

Can some of the ingredients used in building small satellites, such as the large use of commercial components and the design-to-cost approach relieves some of the issues of other space projects? If yes, to what extent? These are some of the questions the symposium hopes to answer.

"Small satellites also provide universities and research laboratories with an affordable means to enter space. Some PhD students have even participated in building small satellites, so these types of spacecraft can play an important role at a university educational level, while at the same time addressing specific research aspects. It has been seen that small satellites are a good means to attract the brightest resources into the space technology arena," adds Luca Maresi. Symposium organised by ESA and CNES For the first time ESA is co-sponsoring this event, together with CNES. This is just one indication that small satellites are slowly but constantly gaining an increasingly recognised role in the European space community.

"We are hosting this event to keep a closer eye on the technology developments that may be beneficial for the Agency's core activities, and also to present the remarkable results lately achieved by ESA-sponsored small satellites," emphasises Luca Maresi. "Our recent SMART and Proba missions show how small satellites can be successfully used as technology demonstrators to mitigate the risks of new technologies while at the same time carrying out meaningful space missions."

For further information, see the 4S Symposium programme.

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