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Scope and Description

This topic page covers the design of propulsion subsystems for small satellites. This includes design of subsystem components; selection of commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) components; and integrated design, configuration, and sizing of the complete subsystem. Propulsion subsystem design is driven by requirements for station keeping, maneuvering, and/or deorbit. Many smallsat missions do not require propulsion; however, it is essential to smallsat missions that require precise synchronization of orbital motion for remote sensing (e.g. Sun-synchronous or repeat ground track orbits), control of relative dynamics for constellations or swarms of smallsats, orbital rendezvous for satellite servicing or debris removal, or compliance with orbit lifetime regulations for smallsats in higher orbits.

Resources in this topic area are primarily website databases of smallsat COTS components and case studies for smallsat propulsion subsystem design.

Best Practices and Lessons Learned

Last Updated:

Nov. 1, 2021

There is a very large and growing number of COTS propulsion systems on the market and these options offer a diversity of distinct strengths in volumetric/mass efficiency, scalability, power efficiency, and other areas. A systematic and comprehensive trade study should be completed to determine the solution that optimizes propulsion performance and reliability for your mission within this large trade space.

Last Updated:

Nov. 1, 2021

Consider the effects of your propulsion system on launch opportunities as a secondary payload. Many rideshare launch providers do not allow propulsion systems or impose strict limitations on energetic chemical propulsion systems.


Last Updated: Nov. 11, 2021

SPOON is an online database of smallsat components such as payloads, flight processors, antennas, propulsion ... systems, equipment for ground stations, and power systems.

Last Updated: Sept. 9, 2021

This dissertation details the design, development, and integration of a new guidance, navigation, and ... control (GNC) system for smallsats. Analysis and simulation results for de-tumbling and reorientation are provided to illustrate the capabilities of the newly designed GNC system.

This resource provides a detailed review of the guidance, navigation, and control (GNC) system that was ... developed by a student-led group at the University of Washington for the HuskySat-1 smallsat. It discusses the benefits offered by utilizing convex optimization-based methods for GNC systems, especially for earth-imaging and technology demonstration satellites.

Propulsion & Pressurisation


Last Updated: Aug. 30, 2021

The CubeSatShop provides commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) components from verified vendors for small satellites. ... This link directs users to the propulsion and pressurization page where COTS hardware components can be purchased.

This annual state-of-the-art report from NASA provides "a survey of small spacecraft technologies sourced ... from open literature" with an introduction to each technology, development status and performance metrics for procurable systems, and descriptions of new technologies with reference missions. Section 4 of this report covers in-space propulsion technologies.

Last Updated: Sept. 30, 2021

This resource discusses the conceptual design of low-cost propulsion systems for smallsats. It introduces ... the constraints and requirements for smallsats and then provides detailed equations, selection criteria, and applications for multi-mode propulsion systems.

Last Updated: Nov. 10, 2021

This paper describes propulsion capabilities for smallsats for a variety of purposes including orbit ... correction, life extension, deorbiting, formation flight, constellation deployment, and interplanetary missions. In addition, the authors describe examples of propulsion systems implemented on small spacecraft missions.

This site provides CubeSat requirements, guidance, and available product offerings related to small satellite ... propulsion systems. It also provides additional resources and key performance criteria to evaluate before deciding on a propulsion system.

Last Updated: Sept. 29, 2021

These slides provide an overview of propulsion system solutions for smallsats and a variety of state-of-the-art ... propulsive technologies currently in use and ones planned for the future. It discusses the pros and cons of each propulsion capability and the technical readiness level (TRL) for each.

Last Updated: Aug. 20, 2021

This article on solar and drag sail propulsion discusses the advancement in technology over the years. ... Past and future missions using solar and drag sails are discussed along with how each mission is demonstrating the maturity of the technology.

Last Updated: Nov. 10, 2021

This article reviews a variety of propulsion systems for smallsats used for station keeping, de-orbiting, ... orbit transfers, collision avoidance, and interplanetary trajectories. It provides detailed information on propulsion systems including examples, schematic diagrams, and specifications for each type. The types of electric propulsion (EP) systems discussed include electrostatic, alternative EP, electrothermal, and electromagnetic.

Last Updated: Oct. 19, 2021

This paper provides a detailed review of three different propulsion technologies: chemical, cold gas, ... and electric, and how each performed for two representative smallsat missions. The analysis and results for each type of propulsion system are detailed as well as the methodology in performing the comparison of each system.

This review on propulsion systems for CubeSats discusses the most promising developments in propulsion ... system technology. It provides details on traditional Hall thrusters, miniaturized thrusters, and hollow cathode neutralizers for micropropulsion. Chapter 4 of the review discusses test equipment and systems used for testing the smallsat propulsion systems.

Last Updated: Oct. 19, 2021

SMAD is a practical handbook for space mission engineering covering all aspects of a space system - from ... orbit and constellation design to operations. This chapter titled "Space Propulsion Systems" addresses propulsion subsystem selection and sizing, the basics of rocket propulsion, types of rockets, component selection, sizing, and staging.