Space scientist Raycho Raychev’s three-year-old start-up, EnduroSat, aims to make miniature satellites available at affordable prices to universities, research institutes and commercial users. “There’s an unprecedented number of applications for our modules — from ship and truck tracking and navigation to astronomy, astrophysics and pharmacology,” he says.
EnduroSat has received seed capital from a venture capital fund, followed by EU funding to provide more than 100 EnduroSat modules and online educational tools to selected European schools.
Its cheapest module, a 10cm-cubed “CubeSat” complete with miniature solar panels and retractable communications antennas, was designed by an in-house team and manufactured locally. EnduroSat satellites sell for €35,000-€65,000, compared to €100m for a conventional 3,000kg satellite.
Closing out a three-day chase from a launch pad in Virginia, Orbital ATK’s Cygnus cargo freighter arrived Thursday at the International Space Station with nearly 7,400 pounds of equipment, delivering food, a quantum physics experiment, and CubeSats for later deployment in orbit.
During its nearly two-month mission, known as OA-9, the Cygnus spacecraft will slightly raise the altitude of the outpost, making it the first U.S. vehicle to reboost the station’s orbit since the retirement of the space shuttle.
The automated supply ship approached the station from below Thursday, aiming laser ranging sensors to track the craft’s distance and closure rate with the orbiting research lab.
After pausing at pre-planned hold points, the Cygnus spacecraft stopped its approach around 30 feet, or 10 meters, below the space station, and astronaut Scott Tingle took control of the lab’s Canadian-built robotic arm to capture the supply ship at 5:26 a.m. EDT (0926 GMT).
Tingle grasped the spacecraft with the robot arm as the space station sailed 264 miles (425 kilometers) over the southern Indian Ocean.
Tingle handed over control of the robot arm to engineers on the ground, who maneuvered the Cygnus spacecraft into position on the Earth-facing berthing port on the space station’s Unity module. Sixteen bolts closed to firmly attach the cargo freighter to the Unity module at 8:13 a.m. EDT (1213 GMT), clearing the way for pressure leak checks before the station crew opens hatches leading into the supply ship later Thursday.
The astronauts will unpack 7,205 pounds (3,268 kilograms) of provisions, experiments and other hardware loaded inside the Cygnus spacecraft’s Italian-built pressurized compartment, and replace the cargo with trash for disposal at the end of the Cygnus mission.
Another science experiment carried by Cygnus will study the solidification of cement in microgravity.
“We are looking into colonizing space,” said Aleksandra Radlinska, principal investigator for the cement experiment from Penn State University. “We want to go to the moon and deep space beyond, and we will need shelters for the human missions. We will need to protect equipment from radiation effects and impacts that these could experience.”
Concrete could be a “go-to” material to build such shelters, she said.
“In our research, we actually look into how cement reacts with water, and how this very complex process of microstructure formation happens in space,” Radlinska said.
Despite the prolific use of concrete, the process of solidification when mixing cement and water “has been fascinating scientists for the last 50 years,” she said. “And for the last 50 years, despite the current technology and instrumentation that we have, we still don’t understand that process completely.”
The nine CubeSats set for release from the space station are:
- CubeRRT, a 6U CubeSat developed at Ohio State University with NASA funding to test a new signal processor to mitigate radio interference impacting microwave radiometer measurements of soil moisture, atmospheric water vapor, sea surface temperature and winds from orbit.
- EQUiSat, a 1U CubeSat developed by Brown University with NASA support as an educational outreach mission, with a secondary objective of demonstrating a new type of battery in space.
- HaloSat, a 6U CubeSat developed at the University of Iowa in partnership with NASA to detect X-ray gas emissions around the Milky Way galaxy.
- MemSat, a 1U CubeSat developed at Rowan University in partnership with NASA, will test a memristor device that could be flown on future satellites to make them more energy efficient and more resilient to power failures.
- RadSat-g, a 3U CubeSat developed at Montana State University in partnership with NASA, will test a new radiation tolerant computer system.
- RainCube, a 6U CubeSat developed at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, will demonstrate the viability and performance of a new expandable Ka-band precipitation radar that can be packaged into a volume to fit in a nanosatellite.
- TEMPEST-D, a 6U CubeSat developed at Colorado State University in partnership with NASA, is a risk mitigation mission for a planned constellation of Earth observation CubeSats that will track the steps in the formation of clouds, precipitation and storms.
- EnduroSat One, a 1U CubeSat developed in Bulgaria, carries an amateur radio payload.
- Radix, a 6U CubeSat owned by a commercial company known as Analytical Space, will test a laser communications terminal planned for use on a future constellation of orbiting data relay nanosatellites to enable high-speed optical downlinks to Earth.