2017.A.3.1. Miniaturised Asteroid Remote Geophysical Observer (M-ARGO): a stand-alone deep space CubeSat system for low-cost science and exploration missions


Roger Walker (1)
Detlef Koschny (1)
Cristina Bramanti (1)
Ian Carnelli (2)
ESA CDF Study Team (1,3)

  1. ESA/ESTEC, The Netherlands
  2. ESA HQ, France
  3. ESA ESOC, Germany




deep space, asteroid rendezvous


Within the frame of the ESA General Studies Programme, ESA has conducted a number of studies on  CubeSat mission and system concepts to operate beyond Low Earth Orbit, including deep space CubeSats to be embarked on the proposed Asteroid Impact Mission (AIM) and more recently LUnar CubeSats for Exploration (LUCE) studies have been initiated. These studies involve mother-daughter system architectures where the CubeSats are carried to a target destination such as lunar orbit or to a Near-Earth Object (NEO) on a larger spacecraft and deployed at the target in order to fulfil their mission. In this case, the technical challenges of power, propulsion, long-range communication and deep space environment survivability are highly alleviated, since the host spacecraft provides resources and accommodation during cruise and communications to Earth ground stations in conjunction with Inter-Satellite Links during operations after the CubeSats are deployed.

ESA has also recently performed a technology reference study in the ESTEC Concurrent Design Facility on a stand-alone deep space CubeSat system capable of, for example, rendezvous and characterisation of NEOs or transfer to Sun-Earth L5 lagrange point for space weather measurements, based on piggyback launch opportunities to near Earth escape (e.g. astronomy missions to L2, lunar exploration missions). The study addressed the requirements, trade-offs and design solutions in order to tackle the aforementioned technical challenges associated with interplanetary CubeSats. The result is a system with a 12U form factor that relies upon a number of miniaturised technologies currently in development  in Europe including: relatively high power steerable solar power generators; high specific impulse electric propulsion; and relatively high power/gain communications. The technology development roadmap would enable flight readiness in the 2021 timeframe. Once launched on a suitable piggyback launch opportunity, operations typically over a 3 year period would be required, supported by medium and large size ground stations, and a flight dynamics team.  The concept is expected to reduce the entry-level cost of deep space exploration by approximately an order of magnitude. The presentation will outline the mission and system designs, as well as the miniaturised payload and platform technologies, and conclude on the overall feasibility.


  • Download the slides in PDF format here (2MB)

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