Satellites in space without a propulsion system? Is it possible?

An expert study has recently suggested that the global propulsion systems market size is expected to soar to 19.97 billion in 2028 with a revenue growth rate of 14.6%.

This is happening as the cost of space launch missions continues to decrease with the space rush, i.e. increasing space effort and investment.

Propulsion system and need to dive:

Based on Newton’s third law of motion which states that every action must face an equal and opposite reaction, a propulsion system is responsible for producing enough thrust at the rear to push an object forward.

This can be achieved through a working gas or fluid, which is burned by the motors to generate an equivalent force on the motor. Nevertheless, different propulsion systems produce the required thrust in different ways.

Some aircraft may have chemical propulsion while others may have electric propulsion technology. For example, NASA has partnered with MagniX USA Inc. and GE Aviation (GE) to prepare for Electric Powertrain Flight Demonstration (EPFD) in its flights by 2035.

An engineer explains: “The successful completion of these tests has positioned us well for the continued development of a megawatt-class hybrid-electric propulsion system.”

There is even talk of solar propulsion, laser propulsion or nuclear propulsion.

A very unusual constituent in this breed is water. Electrolysis breaks down the water molecule into hydrogen and oxygen, which are then routed to the combustion chamber. This system is compact and affordable and can therefore be used on satellites of all sizes: large or small.

And although they all vary in their accomplishments, not all of these methods are devoid of drawbacks, and as a result, this area remains active in research and development.

“There are many technical challenges associated with building and testing hybrid-electric propulsion systems,” explains an administrator of a space center.

Can the propulsion systems be removed?

Along with a significant reduction in cost, if propulsion systems are removed, much of the mass of fuel satellites will also be reduced.

The realization of this probability has baffled even the best intellects on the planet. Recently, a group of three satellites each weighing about 70 kg named Red-Eye demonstrated how to move through space without any propulsion system.

What was so unexpected about this mission was their supposed launch from the International Space Station (ISS) due to which they were not allowed to carry their respective propulsion systems, especially due to non-negotiable security concerns.

The program manager explained how it happened. Spacecraft could be individually controlled from the ground using aerodynamic drag and thereby adjusting their respective solar arrays to rapidly traverse the atmosphere while circulating in low Earth orbit.

“With no propulsion at all and just by modulating our drag profile…they were able to pull them apart, bring them together and really just control that spacing,” He confirmed.

Aerodynamic Drag: The Driving Force in Space

It can be described as a force faced by an object moving through the atmosphere that can easily help manipulate and even maneuver any small satellite to perform certain tasks such as cross-link data transfer.

If not done correctly, it can cause satellites to deorbit in any normal scenario. A specially designed automation system can control this task appropriately in its own orbital space.

Why is this an important task?

Once done, projects can become relatively economical. The huge reliance on propulsion fuels and their alleged release of by-products directly challenges and undermines the sustainability aspect of these research-based efforts.

After all, sustainability becomes a far-fetched idea if humanity cannot gain independence from the need for fuel in any sphere.

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