Tag Archives: Cubesat

Adelaide startup’s Australian first CubeSats launch

The launch lays the foundation for free global connectivity for the industrial Internet of Things (IoT). According to Fleet Space Technologies co-founder and CEO Flavia Tata Nardini, the shoebox-sized Proxima I and II CubeSats are the first to be launched by the Australian private sector. And they lifted off only weeks after Tata Nardini reached out across the Tasman to ask Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck about working together to “untangle the bottleneck of space”.

The Australian and New Zealand Space Agencies, along with regulatory authorities on both sides of the pond, worked with the two startups to clear regulatory and licensing hurdles in record time.

“The speed was unbelievable,” Tata Nardini told create.

And the launch wasn’t the only speedy part of the process. The two Proxima CubeSats were built in six weeks.

“Nanosatellites can be built in weeks, with a little bit of improvement each time,” Tata Nardini explained.

The bulk of the Proxima manufacture took place in San Francisco with Pumpkin Space Systems. The payload — a radio that controls the satellite’s communications — was built by Fleet Space Technologies in Adelaide.

Big rockets, little satellites

The Proxima CubeSats are the first of a constellation of 100 nanosatellites that Fleet Space Technologies plans to launch into Low Earth Orbit (LEO) by 2022. Fleet will have two more nanosatellites in orbit during the coming weeks, with Centauri I on board SpaceX’s recently delayed Falcon 9 SSO-A mission scheduled to launch from the Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. Centauri II will be hot on its heels, taking flight from an Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) PSLV C43 launch vehicle on 27 November.

Tata Nardini said Centauri I will be among 71 CubeSats aboard the Falcon 9, and the media has reported that up to 30 small satellites will be on the ISRO rocket. The SpaceX and ISRO vehicles are considerably heftier than Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket — which is designed specifically for small payloads such as nanosatellites.

Flavia Tata Nardini of Fleet and Australia's space industry
Fleet Space Technologies CEO Flavia Tata Nardini.

“These are big rockets — it’s fascinating to see them dedicating some of their launches to CubeSats,” Tata Nardini added.

Aussie startup Gilmour Space Technologies is also vying to claim its place in the small launch market, and has recently been named in the New York Times as one of only six companies worldwide with the engineering expertise and funding to give Rocket Lab some healthy competition. According to CEO Adam Gilmour, their hybrid-fuelled rocketsare on track for the first commercial launch from Australian soil by 2020.

The next industrial revolution

Fleet’s mission is to “power the next industrial revolution” in sectors such as farming, mining, shipping and logistics. According to Tata Nardini, Fleet’s satellites will “grab the data” from devices in industry.

Last year, Tata Nardini explained to the Engineers Australia Applied IoT Community that industrial clients who purchased sensors, gateways or terminals containing the Fleet Space Technologies communications chip would have free access to Fleet’s satellite constellation.

Even before their first launch, Fleet started generating revenue by connecting customers using existing satellites operated by companies such as Iridium and Inmarsat.

“We’re selling all over the world, proving our IoT approach and how fast we can go with customers,” Tata Nardini said, adding that her company’s CubeSats will provide extra features and redundancy to connect millions of devices.

The real test is in space

The Proxima and Centauri satellites will be monitored in the months after launch to make sure they are working correctly. The Proxima CubeSats have been granted permission to operate in sought-after L-band frequencies, which are used for GPS as they can pass through clouds and tree cover.

The Proxima CubeSats were the first to be launched by the Australian commercial sector. (Image: Fleet Space Technologies)
The Proxima CubeSats were the first to be launched by the Australian commercial sector. (Image: Fleet Space Technologies)

Fleet is tracking the CubeSats twice a day when they pass over Adelaide. The window is tight — 180 seconds for each transit — but Tata Nardini said that their ground station is capable of meeting the challenge.

Tata Nardini said that the Fleet team had learned a lot through the process of designing and building their four satellites.

“Everything is new at the beginning. The more you do it, the more you own it,” Tata Nardini said.

– Nadine Cranenburgh

This article was originally published on create digital.

Space invaders: Mini satellite swarm

Don’t be fooled by the diminutive size of the UNSW-EC0 cubesat. This 1.8kg miniature satellite may be small, but the team who built it have high ambitions.

The miniature satellite is part of the European-led QB50 mission to explore Earth’s least understood atmospheric layer: the thermosphere. Built by a team at Sydney’s Australian Centre
for Space Engineering Research (ACSER), the satellite was deployed, along with a constellation of 35 other cubesats, from the International Space Station in June 2017.

The thermosphere, between 200 and 380km above Earth, is a region vital for communications and weather formation and helps shield Earth from radiation from the Sun and harsh cosmic rays – a region where temperatures can hit 2,500˚C (4,500˚F). It’s here auroras form their flickering curtains of light, and where ultraviolet and X-ray radiation from the Sun can cause potentially catastrophic solar storms that can knock out power grids and communications. Yet until now, the region has been largely uncharted.  

The objective of the QB50 project, led by Belgium’s Von Karman Institute for Fluid Dynamics and involving 28 nations, is to understand the atomic composition of this region. UNSW-EC0 carries a miniaturised Ion Neutral Mass Spectrometer that will collect measurements useful for weather modelling and prediction. 

“This is the most extensive exploration of the lower thermosphere ever, collecting measurements in the kind of detail never before tried,” says Elias Aboutanios, UNSW-EC0’s project leader. “The satellites will operate for three to nine months – and may stay up for up to a year – before their orbits decay and they re-enter the atmosphere and burn up.”

As it drifts lower, the satellite will measure various points of the thermosphere and send the data to a global network of ground stations.

The ACSER team packed other unique experiments aboard UNSW-EC0. It carries UNSW’s new Namuru space-borne GPS, much more accurate thanks to higher-resolution positioning, which is needed in space, especially for formation flying of satellites planned for the future.

Another technology being tested is the seL4bit SBC, a super reliable capability-based software microkernel developed at UNSW; and the RUSH Field-Programmable Gate Array, a robust chip designed to self-correct errors caused by random cosmic rays in space, which can scramble today’s computer chips. It is designed to self-correct errors and allow rapid recovery from a glitch without shutting down or stopping what it is doing, and is a novel, and potentially valuable, approach being tested in space for the first time.

In another first, the team 3D-printed the satellite’s metal-coated thermoplastic skin, in a new process dubbed RAMSES (Rapid Manufacture of Space-Exposed Structures). This allows for greater customisation, while both speeding up the production rate and lowering costs, says technical lead Joon Wayn Cheong. If UNSW-EC0 holds up and performs as planned, the 3D-printed cubesat could be the model for future, more ambitious designs.

Eyes on the sky

Three Australian cubesats were built for the QB50 project, two of them at ACSER, and they are the first satellites made locally in 15 years. But there are likely to be many more.

“It’s an example of the philosophy behind ‘Space 2.0’, where the big expensive agency-driven satellites are being replaced by disruptive low-cost access to space,” says Andrew Dempster, Director of ACSER.

Its other QB50 cubesat was INSPIRE-2, developed jointly with the University of Sydney and Canberra’s Australian National University. This cubesat will measure the plasma density and electron temperature in the thermosphere.

“The QB50 mission is an opportunity to show what we can do at ACSER,” adds Dempster.

ACSER is also a partner in Biarri, a cubesat mission for the Five Eyes intelligence alliance of Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the UK and the USA, to explore cubesat formation flying, verify the performance of UNSW’s Namuru GPS receivers and improve electro-optic systems used for precision orbital tracking. And ACSER is a global leader in the emerging field of off-Earth mining, holding annual forums at which international participants explore how to mine space for water and minerals. It has constructed risk-based financial and technical models to evaluate multiple space-borne mining scenarios, and developed optimised mining systems to extract water on Mars.

Read about the five steps Australia can take to build an effective space agency here.

Lost satellite?

Featured image above: the Nanoracks CubeSat launcher on the Japanese arm of the International Space Station

The first Australian satellite in 15 years, UNSW-EC0, was successfully deployed from the International Space Station, but the UNSW engineers who built it were unable to establish contact when it made its first pass above Sydney.

UNSW-EC0 was ejected from the station at 3:25pm AEST on 26 May, and made its first pass over Sydney at 4:21pm. Engineers at UNSW’s Australian Centre for Space Engineering Research (ACSER) were unable to pick up the signal it is meant to send to confirm the cubesat is operating as designed.

“We’re not overly concerned yet,” said Elias Aboutanios, project leader of the UNSW-EC0 cubesat and deputy director of ACSER. “We’re troubleshooting a number of scenarios for why we didn’t detect it, from checking our ground equipment to exploring the possibility that the batteries might have discharged. But at the moment, we just don’t know.”

“If it is the batteries, the satellite has solar panels and will be able to recharge,” said Joon Wayn Cheong, a research associate at UNSW’s School of Electrical Engineering and Telecommunications and technical lead of the UNSW-EC0 cubesat. “But because it was deployed in the Earth’s shadow, we have to wait for it to make a few orbits before it has recharged, especially if it’s tumbling. So it could be 24 to 48 hours.”

The International Space Station, or ISS, will make four more passes over Sydney on Friday 25 May, and the UNSW team of 15 researchers and students will again try to establish contact, and run a series of tests for scenarios to explain the lack of a signal.

UNSW-EC0 is one of three Australian research satellites – two of them built at the UNSW – that blasted off just after on April 19 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Its mission is to explore the little-understood region above Earth known as the thermosphere, study its atomic composition as well as test new robust computer chips and GPS devices developed at UNSW.

In addition, its chassis is made entirely from 3D-printed thermoplastic, itself an experiment to test the reliability of using  3D-printing to manufacture satellites, making them cheaper and much more customisable.

The cubesat is part of an international QB50 mission, a swarm of 36 small satellites – known as ‘cubesats’ and weighing about 1.3 kg each – that will carry out the most extensive measurements ever undertaken of the thermosphere, a region between 200 and 380 km above Earth. This poorly-studied and usually inaccessible zone of the atmosphere helps shield Earth from cosmic rays and solar radiation, and is vital for communications and weather formation.

“These are the first Australian satellites to go into space in 15 years,” said Andrew Dempster, director of ACSER at UNSW, and a member of the advisory council of the Space Industry Association of Australia. “There have only been two before: Fedsat in 2002 and WRESAT in 1967. So we’ve got more hardware in space today than Australia’s had in its history.”

UNSW-EC0 was deployed from the ISS from a Nanoracks launcher, a ‘cannon’ that eject cubesats at a height of 380 km (the same as the ISS), allowing them to drift down to a lower orbit where they can begin their measurements.

“This zone of the atmosphere is poorly understood and really hard to measure,” said Aboutanios. “It’s where much of the ultraviolet and X-ray radiation from the Sun collides with Earth, influencing our weather, generating auroras and creating hazards that can affect power grids and communications.

“So it’s really important we learn a lot more about it. The QB50 cubesats will probably tell us more than we’ve ever known about the thermosphere,” he added.

QB50 is a collaboration of more than 50 universities and research institutes in 23 countries, headed by the von Karman Institute (VKI) in Belgium. “This is the very first international real-time coordinated study of the thermosphere phenomena,” said VKI’s Davide Masutti. “The data generated by the constellation will be unique in many ways and they will be used for many years by scientists around the world.”

This article was first published by UNSW Engineering. Read the original article here.