2019.A.3.1. MARIO: A Stand-Alone 16U CubeSat to Mars


Karthik Venkatesh Mani (1)
Alvaro Sanz Casado (2)
Jose Enrique Ruiz Sarrio (3)
Vittorio Franzese (1)
Francesco Topputo (1)

  1. Politecnico di Milano, Milan, Italy
  2. Airbus Defence and Space, Madrid, Spain
  3. Siemens Industry Software NV, Leuven, Belgium




Interplanetary; CubeSat; Mars; Systems Engineering


Earth Orbit Missions with unquestionable success. Interplanetary CubeSats are the future of low-cost high-return solar system exploration missions, especially to Mars. These are achieved either through in-situ deployment from a larger satellite or through stand-alone CubeSats launched into highenergy orbit and pursuing a deep-space cruise. To this extent, a stand-alone CubeSat mission, the Mars Atmospheric Radiation Imaging Orbiter (MARIO), is envisaged. MARIO shall demonstrate the capabilities of CubeSats to escape Earth, perform autonomous deep-space cruise, achieve ballistic capture, and be emplaced on a circular orbit at Mars. The MARIO mission shall conduct radiation imaging to characterise the thermal environment in the Mars upper atmosphere. The mission shall serve as a pioneer for Interplanetary CubeSat missions with high launch flexibility and cost efficiency. The current work focuses on systems and mission design of MARIO. The crucial systems that enable MARIO include dual chemical—electric propulsion systems for hybrid high-thrust—lowthrust Earth—Mars transfer concomitant with ballistic capture and circularisation. High-thrust chemical propulsion utilises advanced green monopropellant thrusters while the low-thrust electric propulsion utilises an iodine-propelled radiofrequency ion thruster. Autonomous navigation plays a crucial part in MARIO mission, with full-disk optical navigation implemented near target bodies and celestial triangulation implemented in deepspace cruise for accurate state estimation.

Reflectarrays along with high-gain antennas are utilised to establish long-distance communication link with the Earth. Solar array drive assemblies are used to ensure steady power production and a robust electrical power system architecture is defined for enhanced power management. The spacecraft is a 16U form factor CubeSat with a mass of ~30 kg. The design includes a majority use of COTS equipment with variations, especially in the propulsion system. The mission lifetime is 6 years, which includes interplanetary transfer and science operations. The final design yields feasible budgets on mass, configuration, communications and power.


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