Space Life Support Systems

Cobham's space capability - supporting life in deep space from the 1950s to the future

Global aerospace innovator, Cobham, has been developing space technology for over 60 years.

As the world's leading supplier of mission-critical control solutions, one of Cobham’s space divisions, Cobham Mission Systems, enables its customers to increase the safety and mission capabilities of their people and equipment in the extreme environment of space. Innovation and the ability to adjust their approach to fit any constraint, makes Cobham’s Mission Systems fully adaptable and customizable.

Cobham’s engineering expertise in this highly specialized field originates in the early 1950s - the pioneering days of manned space exploration, which notably saw the foundation of NASA. Cobham has an unrivalled track record developing space life support systems, starting with the design of John Glenn’s breathing regulator used in the world-famous Project Mercury. Since then, every NASA astronaut has breathed using Cobham life support equipment and Cobham’s exceptionally qualified engineering team has supported the Gemini, Apollo, Skylab, Space Shuttle and International Space Station programs.


Cobham is currently developing a suite of space-rated life support and propulsion components for NASA’s Orion deep space exploration spacecraft. Cobham is supplying valves and regulators for the environmental control and life support system used to maintain a life sustaining environment for the astronauts. The propulsion components include valves that help to steer the Orion capsule in space and allow it to remain upright once it lands in the ocean.

Cobham’s portfolio of products for the space market also includes satellite electric propulsion products and composite over-wrapped pressure vessels (gas storage tanks, to the uninitiated). Its composite tanks are much lighter, allowing more gas to be stored - and more gas is always a good thing when you are precision steering a satellite in deep space. Cobham’s electric propulsion products include low pressure and high pressure latch valves, mechanical regulators, miniature valves, and complete feed systems.  Because Cobham is an expert in both valves and tanks, they have integrated products that feature propulsion valves inside the tanks. This is a unique feature that allows satellite manufacturers to use the saved space for other important satellite system components.

Cobham’s Electric Propulsion Xenon Regulator, which was developed through Cobham’s ongoing internal investment, is a prime example of the company’s inventive approach. This high-flow regulator was optimized by Cobham to deliver a product that is smaller and lighter than anything else on offer. Beyond making room for additional payload, it can flow ten times higher than industry standard regulators, enabling satellites to reach orbit faster.

Another innovative new product developed by Cobham is a gas tank that disintegrates on re-entry - a process known as “demiseablility”. This fundamentally addresses the pressing issue of space debris in low orbit - some tens of thousands of “space junk” items are currently circulating above the Earth. As a leader in this field, Cobham carries great responsibility and is proud to offer a solution that allows satellites to responsibly handle their end of life requirements.

In addition to satellite propulsion technologies, Cobham is qualifying launch vehicle propulsion check and relief valves that will help send NASA even further into deep space.  These advanced technologies and other pneumatic products, including composite tanks, pyrotechnic valves, service valves, and solenoid valves, can be leveraged to meet any performance, budget or production quantity target.

The future

The rapid growth of this most pioneering sector is reflected by Cobham’s ongoing investment, research and development. This includes a new range of propulsion valves for electric propulsion, which are both smaller and lighter. Minimizing the size of electric propulsion systems means more room for more payload, improved satellite capability and, ultimately, better value for the customer.

Cobham is proud to deliver assured performance and world-class through-life costs that enable its customers to bring complex projects to market quickly, and with minimal risk – building on its notable success in the past, for future endeavours in space.

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