Controlling satellites has been difficult and expensive so far. A German start-up is in the process of changing this: Morpheus Space develops and sells ion engines on a very small scale. The five-strong team headed by founder Daniel Bock uses high-purity gallium as the drive material (so-called support mass). The system is easily scalable – in sufficient quantities the mini-engines can also handle truck-sized loads.
After initial skepticism, NASA is now a cooperation partner and sees opportunities to use the ion engine from Dresden for the Mars missions as well. In the next few years, however, Morpheus Space is expected to focus on propulsion systems for micro-satellites. Such satellites, some of which are only shoebox-sized, Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk want to shoot into the sky in their hundreds to thousands.
Another positive aspect of the new propulsion system: the satellites can be brought down and burn up in a controlled manner after reaching their service life. Thus, space debris in Earth’s orbit would not continue to increase. As the number of satellites in space is expected to increase many times over the next few years, this aspect is perhaps even the more important one.