ESA BIC Finland head Kimmo Isbjörnssund recently interviewed Aurora Propulsion Technologies CEO Roope Takala. The discussion gives a good insight in to the current status of the company and the state of technology development.
ESA BIC Finland head Kimmo Isbjörnssund
Read the interview bellow for an update on the company work:
Tell us all more about the support Aurora received from ESA BIC and the dates you were in the programme?
Aurora Propulsion Technologies was with ESA BIC Finland from April 2019 to June 2020. The support we received was both monetary and non-monetary. The Funding directly from ESA BIC was tripled by a matching package from Business Finland giving the company a good start. ESA BIC offered the office facilities to grow and supported initial PR activities, such as the SLUSH show and news releases by ESA. ESA BIC helped us get a solid start in the New Space industry.
What is the most exciting of Aurora products and has it been used yet?
The products developed during the ESA BIC incubation include a Plasma Brake for De-orbiting Satellites and thruster modules for small space craft. Both are to be flown in space in December 2020. These initial products take the New Space industry forward especially the Plasma Brake enables companies to comply with the new de-orbit regulations around the world. The follow-on product from the initial products is the most interesting one, the Solar Electric Sail that allows small spacecraft to transverse deep space at high velocities. A 50 kg space craft can do a solar system exit in only 10-15 years with this radical new deep space transport mechanism.
What is the status of the solar electric sail that you have talked about so much in the past?
The Solar Electric Sail is in design phase, but its core technologies have their first space testing on Auroras own AuroraSat-1 in late 2020. A full in-orbit demonstration is planned for 2023 and an interplanetary mission is in planning.
Roope Takala, CEO of Aurora Propulsion Technologies
How much smaller are Aurora products than what was available before? And why does this matter?
The smallest thruster system Aurora makes, Aurora Resistojet One (ARO), weighs only 30g and is sized at 20x20x70 mm. By comparison to earlier products with similar capabilities the ARO is about 20 times lighter and 35 times smaller. Size and weight of satellite core components are important, as sending material to orbit costs about 20-30k€ per kg. Reducing size allows for smaller satellites and reducing weight makes flights more affordable. Affordability of flights is the key fuel to the future growth of the space industry.
Is the in-orbit demonstration mission still planned for December 2020, and what is important about that? Why should non-space people take notice of it?
Aurora will fly its own In-orbit-demonstration mission of both the six thruster Arora Resistojet Module (ARM) and the Plasma Brake De-orbiting system on AuroraSat-1 as planned in December 2020. Even though the thrusters are fully tested on the ground space flight heritage gives a signal that the product works according to specification. For the Plasma Brake the flight is very important as it is highly sensitive to the gravitating al field. Key parts of the system need to be deployed in orbit to be fully tested. The AuroraSat-1 mission will fly two separate Plasma Brake. It will deploy two tethers from a single satellite for the first time in human spaceflight history and provide valuable measurement data on the operation of the Plasma Brake. The multi tether deployment is also a first practice run for the future multi-tether Solar Electric Sail deployment.
The event is significant as it marks the growth of the Finnish space industry with the ninth Finnish satellite. It also is the first step in revolutionizing the deep space propulsion industry. The E-sail propulsion system that allows a completely new era of deep space exploration at a price point possible not only for large governmental space organizations, but also smaller exploration teams from national space programs, universities and private companies.