Our plan

Aether will develop the technology required for the targeted soft landing of CubeSats on Earth. This serves the needs of scientists from a variety of fields, such as biology, physics, chemistry, and pharmacology, who have a lot to gain from this sample return capability.

First things first: what is a CubeSat?

A CubeSat is a type of satellite with standardised dimensions: they exist of so-called units of 10x10x10 cm, or about the size of a Rubik's cube. This standardisation makes it easier to design and launch your satellite quickly and cheaply, by buying commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) components and riding along with the launches of other, bigger satellites. The development and spread of the CubeSat standard has made it possible for small players to still reach space and do great things!

What are we planning?

At Aether we are developing a platform that will enable long term scientific experiments to be carried out in space, that can then be brought back safely to Earth for further analysis of the results. Currently, this is only really possible through the International Space Station (ISS). It would be a true breakthrough if we could make this happen within the tiny CubeSat format!

How are we going to do this? 

We face a lot of challenges. To start, our satellite must survive the dangerous and fiery entry through the atmosphere. This requires a heatshield. Besides this, the satellite must land in a pre-determined location, and it must do so softly, such that the payload can be retrieved safely and unharmed. This requires technical solutions that are not needed in a ‘normal’ CubeSat. Because it is very difficult to meet all these challenges at once, we are first focusing on the heatshield: Aether is working on a deployable shield to resist the violence of re-entry.

Why a deployable heatshield?

A deployable heatshield has several advantages: firstly it is possible to vastly increase the surface area of the satellite, beyond the restrictions posed by the CubeSat form factor. This is advantageous because the conditions of re-entry are determined in part by the ballistic coefficient, which is a measure of the ability of the re-entry vehicle to overcome the friction posed by the incoming air. Increasing the surface area will decrease the ballistic coefficient, which will in turn lower the heat load on the vehicle during the re-entry, and keep our precious payload as cool as possible. Deployable and inflatable heatshields are very promising technologies for challenging re-entry conditions, such as those on Mars. They have been explored by ESA and NASA in the past, in the IRDT and IRVE missions.

The large surface area of a deployable shield can also serve as a parachute to slow the satellite down in the final stages of descent.