BLUEsat UNSW team members working on an ADCS board.BLUEsat Ground station antennas at sunset on the roof of the UNSW Electrical Engineering BuildingBLUEsat engineering team members at UNSW Sydney working on arduino code for our satellite project.ADCS

BLUEsat’s CubeSat Team

The ultimate goal of BLUEsat UNSW’s CubeSat Division is to develop and send a satellite into space. The physical components of a satellite are deconstructed into subsystems and developed by individual student teams. BLUEsat currently has three components in production which are the ADCS, Power and GreenSat Modules.

Founded in 1997 our satellite team is probably one of the oldest in Australia. BLUEsat UNSW completed its original satellite in mid-2013, but it was not launched due to cost constraints. The team is now focused on CubeSat development which is cheaper and a growing sector in the space industry.

CubeSat ADCS Team

The second itteration of the Satellite Reaction Wheel.
The second iteration of the Satellite Reaction Wheel.

The Attitude Determination and Control System (ADCS) team works on developing hardware capable of determining and controlling the satellite’s attitude (orientation) in space. This allows the satellite to not only dampen any unwanted tumbling in space but also to aim any directional equipment, such as cameras, telescopes and directional antennas.

Previous work completed by the team spans several designs and various means of achieving orientation control. As a starter project, the team demonstrated detumbling with magnetorquer, actively interacting with the earth’s magnetic field to slow the system’s rate of spin. Next, they shifted to development of reaction wheels – another ADCS actuation method. Single-axis control was achieved, this time with a proof-of-concept reaction wheel, while also researching into developing single-axis control utilising a brushless DC motor as used in space applications. Currently, the ADCS team is working on developing a 3-axis reaction wheel for a 2U CubeSat, with the intention of making the design open-source for other CubeSat developers to use and modify freely. This is likely to be the first CubeSat 3-axis reaction wheel system developed in Australia.

Due to the unique requirements of this system, the ADCS team draws heavily from several disciplines at UNSW Sydney, including mechanical, electrical, software and control engineering. As such, we aim to train members to achieve proficiency across these areas regardless of their technical background, so as to develop a broader understanding of ADCS theory as well as a well-rounded technical skillset.

CubeSat Power Team

Two BLUEsat UNSW members soldering custom PCBs for our space engineering projects
Two BLUEsat UNSW members soldering custom PCBs for our space engineering projects

Reliable and efficient power systems are a huge part of a successful CubeSat mission. At BLUEsat, students from UNSW Sydney work together to design and integrate all aspects of a space-grade power system. From designing power regulator circuits, using maximum power point tracking (MPPT) to optimise solar panels, and comprehensive testing, the society ensures that all engineering aspects of the power system are covered.

The satelite battery charging board.
A custom PCB developed by our CubeSat Power Team to test charging lithium batteries.

Some of these aspects can be seen in the blog posts written by some members of the society such as our blogs on lithium-ion battery charging and maximum power point tracking. We’re always working on new problems though, so check back for more updates.

Within the BLUEsat power team, we work to give UNSW Sydney students real-world engineering challenges and develop their skills beyond coursework. New members are given a unique design brief for a sensor, and work with more experienced members of the society to develop their own PCB over a semester. Some of the successful sensor projects can also be found on our blog such as our simple sun sensor. After completing this sensor project, students are able to make meaningful contributions to the CubeSat program.

CubeSat Space Agriculture (GreenSat)

Greensat member Ben Koschnick presenting the GreenSat project and the International Astronautics Congress in 2017.
Ben Koschnick presenting the GreenSat project at the International Aeronautics Congress (IAC).

Our GreenSat program aims to use CubeSats to develop and test new technologies and techniques in orbital agriculture. Our vision is to develop methods and technologies to grow food in the harsh, unforgiving conditions of orbit or an alien planet (read more about it here). The satellite payload is designed to be simple and disposable with an emphasis on minimising size and costs. We will be starting with nitrogen-fixing bacteria, giving us our first step towards fertilising sterile regoliths (soil on other planets). Over the next few years, we will build, test, iterate and improve the GreenSat satellite’s payload with ground test models and hosted payloads until we are confident in launching an agricultural payload on a CubeSat.

GreenSat is looking for UNSW Sydney engineering students interested in satellite engineering to take part in a variety of hands-on and research-based projects from payload prototyping, subsystem development, sensing technologies and experimental design. While there are many challenges along the way, the opportunities and exposure to satellite engineering are invaluable to any aspiring engineer.

GreenSat also offers the unique opportunity for UNSW science students from many fields to work with BLUEsat on our project. Students of microbiology might be interested in joining our biology team, over at BioSphere, the biology society that’s collaborating with us on this project. We are currently planning our first experiments for 2019. Particularly driven students interested in astrogeology, astronomy, ecology, chemistry, particle physics and ecology will also find we have many exciting opportunities for research as part of our multi-disciplinary team.

The research and experiments performed at GreenSat are at the cutting edge of space agriculture. As such, GreenSat has generated much interest from local and international parties. After presenting the project at the 68th International Astronautics Congress (IAC), BLUEsat’s GreenSat team will be spending 2019 working on building and testing our first prototype. We look forward to sharing our experiences with you and working towards the lofty goal of feeding the final frontier.

Interested in space, electronics or just looking to further your engineering skills? UNSW Sydney student? All of us at BLUEsat UNSW are looking forward to seeing you. Head over to the ‘Join Us‘ page for more details on where you can start.