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Moscow Institute of Electronics and Mathematics Opens Microsatellite Control Center

HSE’s Moscow Institute of Electronics and Mathematics has opened a university Microsatellite Flight Control Center. Its main goal is to offer students practical experience with small space devices that work in near-earth orbits. It was created jointly with the company Sputniks.

The students will work with micro and cube-sat satellites that have already been launched into space. Equipment at the Moscow Institute of Electronics and Mathematics center will make it possible to use real-time telemetry to track over a dozen such devices which are currently circulating in low-earth orbits. Control commands will be issued to some devices, with the agreement of their developers. The opportunity to control different types of microsatellites from different countries and developed by different groups is a key feature of the MIEM satellite control center – one that differentiates it from all the other similar centers in Russia.

What are micro satellites?

Microsatellites are space devices weighing from 10 to 100 kg. Cube-sats are satellites that weigh from 1 to 10kg. In terms of their on-board systems, they are not very different from large space satellites, they also have orientation systems (passive and active), electricity supply, navigation, radio communications, on-board digital equipment. Micro-satellites and cube-sats can carry out a diverse range of operations, despite their size. They can deliver packages of communication between ground-based sites (including radio enthusiasts), carry out distance tests on the Earth, help in scientific research and technological experiments, and in education. Most micro-satellites and cube-sats (several hundred have already been launched) were created and are operated by students at various different technological universities worldwide.

‘We propose that the control center will not only observe satellites’ flight, but will take an active role in controlling them’ SPUTNIKS’ Technical Director Stanislav Karpenko said. ‘In order to be able to do this in a productive way, we will need to study the space devices we are working with, understand their radio communications protocols and coding and decoding procedures. We will need to study and develop radio signal processing methods, receive and process telemetry data from satellites, and try to use on-board data to evaluate what really is going on. We also need to build relations with the groups who developed these satellites, and as a rule this is also students and graduate students, although sometimes it might be really advanced school-kids, and carry out a number of other practical studies.’

In order to support the Center’s work, the MIEM’s roof has been fitted with antennae, one of which is stationary (145 MHz) and the second tracks the movement of satellites we’re interested in (435 MHz). The radio lab is located in the northern section. Students will use open-source programmes and those developed by SPUTNIKS specially to track and control the Tabletsat-Aurora micro-satellite. ‘We’ve been working with HSE MIEM for several years now,’ Karpenko said. ‘It has made a real contribution to training specialists for design work in the rocket and space sector, for both the Russian space sector as a whole and for the satellite sector specifically. However, despite their superlative academic credentials, many new graduates lack practical skills. And that is why we worked with HSE MIEM to set up this control center for microsatellites. It will offer students the chance to deal with real questions arising – from setting specific tasks for small devices already launched to studying others’ experience and using it to create our own cubesats.’

There are also plans to equip the Laboratory of Space Vehicles and Systems’ Functional Safety at MIEM with equipment to help students learn more about the principles behind the construction of key on-board operating systems in microsatellites. ‘We will not only involve MIEM students in practical work at the Center, we will also reach out to students at School No. 1519 in the North West Administrative District, which is home to the Cosmonauts Museum and where there is already a small virtual flight control center,’ Karpenko said.

‘Microsatellites are an excellent teaching tool, which is why they are so popular abroad. Finally this is also starting to develop here,’ said Evgeny Pozhidaev, Academic Supervisor and Chief Research Fellow at the Laboratory of Space Vehicles and Systems’ Functional Safety. ‘I think that using small satellites is a very important area of work, because no one will let students and school-kids work with large, very expensive satellites. Small satellites, which cost much less and require less time in development and preparation, are another matter.  Today, our main goal as a university is to teach students how to work, while designing their own small satellites and gradually building up contacts with other universities, which have already launched satellites into orbit. I think that the future of universities training space sector professionals lies in small satellites.’

Honoured guests at the opening ceremony for the HSE MIEM Microsatellite Control Center included researcher, doctor and honoured space scientist, Mars project participant Vladimir Makarov, and cosmonaut and pilot Alexander Lazutkin.

 

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