240 Million Kilometres: HSE Satellite Spends a Year in Orbit
A year ago, on March 22, 2021, at 9:07 Moscow time, a Soyuz-2.1a rocket with a Fregat upper stage was successfully launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome Site 31. The launch vehicle carried 38 satellites, including the CubeSX-HSE satellite developed through the joint efforts of experts and students from the HSE University Laboratory of Space Vehicles and Systems’ Functional Safety of the HSE Tikhonov Moscow Institute of Electronics and Mathematics (HSE MIEM) and Sputnix, a privately-owned space company.
The Soyuz-2.1a also delivered another satellite into orbit: CubeSX-Sirius-HSE, a joint development of HSE MIEM, Sputnix, and the Sirius Educational Centre. It was created as part of the Grand Challenges programme for schoolchildren, with MIEM specialists acting as teachers and project managers. The two satellites were built at the same time and are identical in many ways. Even their names are similar: CubeSX-HSE and CubeSX-Sirius-HSE.
Dmitrii Abrameshin, the Laboratory’s Leading Engineer, talked about the satellite, the objectives for its time in orbit, the Mission Control Centre, and student involvement in the project.
About the HSE Satellite
CubeSX-HSE is a small spacecraft comprised of three units (each measuring approximately 10 cm x 10 cm) mounted on a single frame. One unit houses a flywheel assembly that orients the vehicle in space, the second unit houses all the boards for the satellite’s operation, and the third is entirely dedicated to the payload—a camera for remote sensing of Earth.
The vehicle is based on CubeSat’s OrbiCraft-Pro 3U platform and is equipped with an experimental Fresnel lens camera developed at Samara University with a high-speed X-band transmitter. The satellite's control systems were developed by MIEM HSE staff and students.
Our satellite has been orbiting Earth for exactly one year at an average speed of 7.59 km/s. That adds up to a total distance travelled of almost 240 million km—5,470 complete revolutions around Earth—in that time. The orbital altitude of the satellite is 569.8 km at apogee and 537.3 km at perigee. We have received about 150 images, if we ignore the really bad ones, test images, and cloudy ones. However, we must remember that this is an experimental satellite, and footage is only part of its work.
The Satellite’s Objectives
There are two main groups of objectives. The first group includes experimental testing of equipment—the functional boards and the payload. We are studying their reliability, durability, and quality of operation. The second group includes remote sensing of Earth in the visible spectrum. This involves monitoring our planet's surface, meteorological surveying, monitoring large-scale changes, and many other areas where this kind of equipment is used.
Operating the Satellite and Receiving Telemetry
A special Mission Control Centre was set up to perform these tasks. Signals from the satellite first go to the Zavitok M VHF receiving and transmitting station. The same station is used to receive and transmit commands to the satellite from Earth. The facility receives telemetry from small spacecraft in low Earth orbit and sends commands to them. It is also designed to work in accordance with amateur radio regulations.
The signals are then processed using special equipment. This equipment is installed both on the upper floors of the MIEM building and inside the laboratory. It is very important to note that students do practically all the day-to-day work of receiving signals and monitoring the status of the satellite.
Tackling Real Challenges
There have been a number of challenges, ranging from interference to electrical surges in the building that have caused failures in both the receiving equipment and its software. And, of course, we had to perform some extra calibrations of the satellite guidance algorithms.
What Students Learn from Working with the Satellite
If you dive into the process and you are willing to acquire knowledge, you will learn Linux, the modulation principles of radio signals, their analogue-to-digital conversion, Software Defined Radio (SDR). You will learn skills for working with mathematical models, filters, and complex algorithms. You will also definitely pick up remote-working skills.
Plans for the Future
We are currently working hard to develop our own satellite simulation systems to give everyone the opportunity to immerse themselves in the field of satellite construction. Anyone can visit the Laboratory's website and view images taken by HSE's satellites. This page will also periodically post open-access images taken by other meteorological satellites. By the end of this academic year, the Laboratory will launch the Virtual Space Virtual Satellite (VSVS) application for all users. VSVS is a full-fledged training course based on the space simulator developed by HSE students and the Laboratory of Space Vehicles and Systems’ Functional Safety. Users of the application can learn more about how a spacecraft is designed and programmed and see its motion in the weightlessness of an orbital flight.
On top of that, we are currently developing the Automatic Identification System (AIS), a payload for the satellite that can track the positions of ships anywhere in the ocean. We hope to launch this system in the future.
We have put together a special quiz to celebrate the HSE satellite’s one year in orbit. Just follow the link below and answer some questions about space for a chance to win T-shirts with the HSE University logo and the HSE satellite!
Only one year ago, the first HSE University satellite, developed by specialists and students from the Laboratory of Space Vehicles and Systems’ Functional Safety of the HSE Tikhonov Moscow Institute of Electronics and Mathematics (MIEM HSE) and the Sputnix space company, was launched into orbit. And now, the date of the second HSE University’s satellite launch has been announced: Roscosmos will send it into space from Baikonur Cosmodrome on August 9th, 2022.
A team of HSE students is taking part in the development of a Russian satellite automatic identification system (AIS) to monitor sea navigation. The aim of the project is to track the locations of vessels and adjust their routes, including in the Arctic along the Northern Sea Route.
On Cosmonautics Day, the HSE News Service spoke with the participants of the CubSX-HSE project, which recently launched a satellite into Earth orbit. Students and staff from the HSE Moscow Institute of Electronics and Mathematics (MIEM) spoke about their project and impressions of their trip to Baikonur.
On March 22 at 9:07 Moscow time, a Soyuz-2.1a rocket with a Fregat upper stage was successfully launched. The launch vehicle carried a total of 38 satellites from 18 countries into sun-synchronous orbits, including HSE University’s CubeSX-HSE satellite, which will conduct remote sensing of the Earth.
The Moscow Institute of Electronics and Mathematics (MIEM) has signed an agreement with Sputnix, a company that produces components for high-tech satellites. The agreement envisions, among other things, the creation of a mission control centre for small scientific and educational microsatellites. The centre will be part of MIEM.