MEMS for pico- to micro-satellites
MEMS sensors, actuators, and sub-systems can enable an important reduction in the size and mass of spacecrafts, first by replacing larger and heavier components, then by replacing entire subsystems, and finally by enabling the microfabrication of highly integrated picosats. Very small satellites (1 to 100 kg) stand to benefit the most from MEMS technologies. These small satellites are typically used for science or technology demonstration missions, with higher risk tolerance than multi-ton telecommunication satellites. While MEMS are playing a growing role on Earth in safety-critical applications, in the harsh and remote environment of space, reliability is still the crucial issue, and the absence of an accepted qualification methodology is holding back MEMS from wider use. An overview is given of the range of MEMS applications in space. An effective way to prove that MEMS can operate reliably in space is to use them in space: we illustrate how Cubesats (1 kg, 1 liter, cubic satellites in a standardized format to reduce launch costs) can serve as low-cost vectors for MEMS technology demonstration in space. The Cubesat SwissCube developed in Switzerland is used as one example of a rapid way to fly new microtechnologies, and also as an example of a spacecraft whose performance is only possible thanks to MEMS.