Tuesday, February 14, 2012

ESA Launches CubeSats Student-Built Satellites

History was made today as ESA’s new Vega launcher lifted off from Kourou spaceport in French Guiana. On board were nine small satellites, including seven ESA- sponsored CubeSats built by teams of students from European universities.

Among these educational payloads were the first satellites ever designed and built in Hungary, Romania and Poland.

The first payload to be released into orbit was the LARES Laser Relativity Satellite from the Italian Space Agency (ASI). Some 16 minutes later, the Vega upper stage motor shut down for the third time, followed immediately by deployment of the seven CubeSats and the University of Bologna’s ALMASat-1 nanosatellite. Ejected from special deployment mechanisms known as P-PODs (Poly-Picosatellite Orbital Deployers), each CubeSat was placed in an elliptical orbit of approximately 300 x 1,450 km altitude.

Over the coming days, the student teams from six European countries will be listening for the first signals from their tiny creations, checking out the satellites’ systems and then conducting the onboard experiments, supported by radio amateurs around the world.

The story of the pioneering picosatellites began as long ago as 2007, when ESA officials decided that the maiden launch of Vega would be an ideal opportunity to fly student-built satellites. Slots were available for at least six cube-shaped satellites, each only 10 cm across and weighing no more than 1 kg.

More than 250 university students in six countries participated in designing and building the seven CubeSats that eventually made it to the launch, along with their innovative technology and science experiments.

Supported by experts from ESA, academic staff from their universities and various national space agencies and institutions, most of the teams succeeded in overcoming numerous logistical and technical challenges to deliver the satellites on time.



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