What does a typical Attitude and Orbit Control System (AOCS) look like for a very small satellite? How does such a satellite control its attitude and orbit? Are there any means of propulsion at this scale - like chemical or electrical thrusters or other AOCS related devices like torquers, reaction wheels or sun, earth and star sensors?

By very small I mean satellites like micro (10–100 kg), nano (1–10 kg), pico (0.1–1 kg) or femto (< 0.1 kg) satellites.

There exists a related older question about cube satellites and their propulsion systems. However, this question is different to the older one, since this question is related to AOCS (which is not identical to propulsion system) and explicitely asks for the specific cases of micro, nano, pico and femto satellites.


2 Answers 2


As TidalWave pointed out, no very small satellites have flown with an active propulsion system, so they cannot change their orbit actively.

To control their attitude, many employ a Magnetorquer, which is a magnet, that creates an infinitesimal, but sufficient, torque in the earth's magnetic field.

They may have small reaction wheel systems, which allow better control while active. However, the satellite will loose attitude control and start tumbling when they power down.

Look here to see what's available: http://www.cubesatshop.com/index.php?option=com_virtuemart&page=shop.browse&category_id=7&Itemid=69

Edit: They even carry a cold gas thruster system. According to the description, it "is already integrated on a number of CubeSats that are ready for flight." I take this to mean that none have been launched yet. Also note, that "a number" may be "one".

Got a cool 81000€?

  • $\begingroup$ Could you please update the answer based on information from the linked question? $\endgroup$ Sep 4, 2015 at 8:04
  • $\begingroup$ deer-hunter What information from what linked question? $\endgroup$ Sep 7, 2015 at 0:27

According to this 2014 study (pdf, french language), nothing is readily available (looks like they didn't searched very well).

According to the same paper paper, some projects working on it:

  • μLPPT (poland)
  • arc-jet (Japan, Germany)
  • PPT (Austria)
  • ionic liquid (Swiss, Netherland, USA)
  • ion thruster (US)
  • The french project from the paper

Some pictures and figures are available on the article.

  • $\begingroup$ Feel free to ask if you need more informations extracted from the paper. $\endgroup$
    – Antzi
    Sep 3, 2015 at 17:55

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