The Satellite Project

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.

The current mission is to launch a CubeSat into low earth orbit with a UV telescope as the payload. The Earth’s atmosphere filters out the UV and X-ray radiation emitted from stars and therefore ground-mounted telescopes cannot gather it. Astrophysicists have had to use an incomplete data set, excluding the high energy radiation that could reveal crucial information about stars and the structure of the universe. But a telescope in orbit is outside the atmosphere and can gather information about the UV and X-ray emissions of stars. Furthermore, a satellite in orbit has far more range than a ground-mounted telescope because it can move freely throughout latitudes.

We’re planning to launch a satellite that we’re just beginning to design in December 2022 for a six-month mission. We have five sub-teams, three of which will be new this term. This is an excellent chance to work on an engineering project with real-world applications following professional design standards.

 

Attitude Determination and Control Systems (ADCS) Team

This team focuses on developing a magnetorquer that can control the orientation of a CubeSat in space. The project allows team members to develop skills in circuit design and hardware interface using micro controllers. This is a team that has existed in previous iterations of the Satellite project and is currently being developed further.

Skills You Will Learn in the ADCS Teama magnetorquor, which is a copper coil connected to a breadboard and a circuit

  • Circuit design using modules
  • Mechanical structure design
  • Programming for hardware interface
  • Integration of electrical, mechanical and computing systems

Assumed Knowledge

  • Basic programming/COMP1511
  • Basic circuit design/ELEC1111
  • Basic mechanics/MMAN1300

Power

This team designs a system that is capable of providing all the power the CubeSat needs to operate in space using solar panels. Members practice circuit design and the production and testing of electrical systems. This is also a team that has existed in the past, with plans to develop previous iterations of the design and improve on them. (More information available below under Our Previous Missions)

Skills You Will Learn in the Power Team

  • Practical soldering using soldering iron, hot air gun, and reflow oven
  • Electrical circuit design using various integrated circuits
  • Printed Circuit Board (PCB) design
  • Power systems

Assumed Knowledge

Basic circuit design/ELEC1111

Payload/Structurethe previous satellite structure - a steel rectangle with cutouts

Every satellite needs a structure and payload, and ours will be developed by a team focusing on mechanical engineering. The team focuses on design for manufacture, both from scratch and from existing components.

Skills You Will Learn in the Payload Team

  • Mechanical structure design
  • Design using commercial components
  • CAD and engineering drawings

Assumed Knowledge

Basic mechanics/MMAN1300

 

On-Board Computing (OBC)

The OBC team is one of our new teams for this mission. It aims to program an micro controller to perform all the necessary computing functions for the satellite, including data processing and controlling the other modules. The members will develop skills in software design and hardware interface.

Skills You Will Learn in the OBC Team

  • Data management
  • Program structure

Assumed Knowledge

Basic programming/COMP1511

 

Communications

The communications team is the second new team for our current mission. The team will design a system that allows a ground station on Earth to communicate with the satellite in space. This team is ideal for those looking to apply telecommunications principles.

Skills You Will Learn in the Communications Team

  • Telecommunications, communicating with a satellite

Assumed Knowledge

Basic circuit design/ELEC1111


Our Previous Satellite Mission

In our previous Satellite mission, we collaborated with Biosphere UNSW and AIAA Rocketry UNSW to launch a 2U CubeSat on a rocket for the THUNDA 2019 rocket launch competition. For this mission, AIAA created the rocket, Biosphere worked on the cyanobacteria for the payload of the satellite, which our GreenSat team worked alongside Biosphere, creating a simple passive thermal system to contain the bacteria and using sensors to monitor it. We also had a Power team, which worked to supply power to the CubeSat, and an Attitude Determination and Control Systems (ADCS) team, which was made to detumble the satellite when turning in space. Unfortunately the ADCS team’s systems could not be tested in this launch but have been developed and will continue being improved and used in the current Satellite project. Find more about the work breakdown of the tasks for the mission here, and our members’ experience of the launch here.

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.