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The Path to the Stars: How HSE University Launches Satellites and Gathers Talent

VHF transceiver station Zavitok М

VHF transceiver station Zavitok М
© HSE University

The CubeSX-HSE-3 satellite, created by staff and students of HSE MIEM and based on the OrbiCraft-Pro 3U platform developed by the SPUTNIX private space company, was launched into low-Earth orbit in June. It is the third research vehicle developed at HSE University as part of the SPACE-π project. The HSE University team plans to launch another spacecraft in December 2023 and in the future, it plans to launch two CubeSats into orbit per year. In a special report for the HSE News Service, HSE University’s Project and Educational Laboratory of Economic Journalism explains what HSE University’s satellites do in space and what kind of work goes into them on Earth.

CubeSX-HSE: The First Experiment

The Moscow Institute of Electronics and Mathematics was created in 1961. Many laboratories were engaged in space research, and employees took part in the Buran space shuttle programme. In 2010, under the guidance of HSE University’s tenured professor Evgeny Pozhidaev and professor Vladimir Saenko, the neglected topic of space got a new lease of life at MIEM.

The idea to ​​launch the university’s first satellite originated as a scientific experiment. It was necessary to check the satellite design to make sure that the correct antenna design was chosen and that the main board was working.

In 2015, an educational and research area dedicated to the functional safety of satellites came into being at the institute. The work was concentrated in the Laboratory of Space Vehicles and System’s Functional Safety. MIEM’s own Mission Control Centre for small spacecrafts and real-time data processing was formed at the laboratory, assembling a team of young engineers and scientists. The development of the first satellite was carried out by MIEM laboratory workers with assistance from engineers from the private space company SPUTNIX.

With the support of Yaroslav Kuzminov, the founder and first rector of HSE University, the OrbiCraft-Pro 3U flight platform was purchased.

Vladimir Saenko

‘We take a standard platform from SPUTNIX, and then we attach our payloads to it,’ explained Vladimir Saenko, Head of the Laboratory of Space Vehicles and System’s Functional Safety. In the initial stage, SPUTNIX also provided an OrbiCraft educational kit and a semirealistic simulation stand to teach students the basics of developing, assembling, and operating vehicles.

Around the same time, in collaboration with students and staff of HSE University, school students and participants of the Big Challenges programme of the Sirius Educational Centre developed another experimental satellite: CubeSX-Sirius-HSE. Both devices were launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in March 2021.

Thus began the collaboration between the university and its partners under the auspices of the Roscosmos State Corporation.

After launching into orbit, experimental tests of CubeSX-HSE’s functional boards and payloads began. Within two years, the satellite traversed 478.7 million km, which is equivalent to 11,000 full orbits around the Earth. During this period, the device took about 320 images of the earth’s surface, having fully completed its tasks to monitor the state of the Earth’s surface and conduct meteorological surveys. The experiment was deemed a success.

Satellites for Arctic Regions

This summer, a modified AIS hardware and software complex (an automatic ship identifier capable of receiving a signal from ships to a spacecraft and transmitting it to Earth), an ADS-B monitoring system, and an Earth remote sensing camera were sent into orbit as part of CubeSX-HSE-3.

Together with the previous HSE satellite—CubeSX-HSE-2—this device will monitor natural and climate changes in the Arctic, as well as collect data to make changes in the way ships travel along the Northern Sea Route (NSR).

While traffic through the NSR is constantly growing, the Arctic's severe conditions make it difficult to develop navigation. For operational monitoring, data from the Automatic Identification System is used, but its coverage is limited due to the vast area and unfavourable conditions. In this regard, it becomes important to develop AIS services with greater accuracy and frequency, providing independent and regular monitoring of vessel traffic.

HSE University’s spacecraft are presented in a standardised CubeSat format. CubeSat is a format of small or ultra-small artificial satellites for space exploration with dimensions that are multiples of 10 × 10 × 10 cm. The design of such a device consists of three units mounted on a single frame. The first unit houses the block of flywheels that control the device’s orientation in space. The second includes all the boards necessary for the satellite’s operation. The last one is devoted to accommodating the payload.

MIEM students and staff develop and create boards, software, and web products, as well as conduct preliminary tests. Each new CubeSat differs from the previous one in terms of the payload contents. All of HSE University’s satellites are equipped with survey cameras with improved photo lenses, focus, and resolution. There are space communication antennas on the roof of the Institute of Electronics and Mathematics building, and a server is installed and connected inside.

The Laboratory of Space Vehicles and System’s Functional Safety at MIEM trains specialist engineers in the field of small satellite construction, observation and photography of the Earth’s surface.

Student Mission Control Centre

In addition to managing the CubeSats and monitoring their condition, the team of the MIEM Mission Control Centre also decodes the information transmitted from outer space in order to obtain high-quality images.

Dmitrii Abrameshin

‘When a satellite transmits a picture to Earth, it arrives in quite a bad state. It is affected by radiation, the magnetic field, solar wind, rains, and weather in general. In such cases, recovery coding is used,’ explains Dmitrii Abrameshin, lead engineer at the Laboratory of Space Vehicles and System’s Functional Safety. Images processed by the Mission Control Centre can be found on the HSE University website.

The signal from the satellite first arrives at the VHF transceiver station Zavitok M, which also receives commands to the satellite from Earth. The space communications antenna is designed to operate in accordance with amateur radio regulations. Then, with the help of equipment installed both on the upper floors of the MIEM building and in the laboratory, the signal is processed.

Vadim Elkin

‘My journey in spacecraft development began at the Laboratory of Space Vehicles and System’s Functional Safety. I am an operator of the Mission Control Centre and I am engaged in receiving and transmitting messages to the satellite. I have participated in the development of payloads for HSE University’s satellites and I continue to participate in their projects. At the moment, I am taking a refresher course at SPUTNIX. The process of working on HSE University’s satellites gave me many new acquaintances, as well as knowledge in the field of satellite orbits and their power supply', says Vadim Elkin, MIEM Mission Control Centre operator, second-year student of the Information Science and Computation Technology programme at MIEM.

Collaborations for Space Exploration

In the name of inter-university cooperation in the field of space exploration, HSE University has begun to combine its efforts with other educational institutions. Its partners include the Roscosmos State Corporation, the ScanEx Group of Companies, SPUTNIX, the Foundation for Assistance to Small Innovative Enterprises in Science and Technology, Aerospace Capital, and a number of universities, including St Petersburg Polytechnic University, Moscow Engineering Physics Institute (National Research Nuclear University MEPhI), and others. The payloads of HSE CubeSats also include technologies developed by other universities.

HSE University receives about four million roubles in the form of a grant from the Foundation for Assistance to Small Innovative Enterprises in Science and Technology—these funds are used to purchase the OrbiCraft-Pro 3U platform for new satellites. The institute spends the same amount of funds from its own budget on the development of payloads, testing, etc.

Currently, at the request of SPUTNIX, MIEM has selected seven people for advanced training and further work at the Mission Control Centre of the Roscosmos State Corporation.

Three previous CubeSats, including the device assembled in collaboration with Sirius school students, were launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. CubeSX-HSE-3 was launched from the Vostochny Cosmodrome.

Space exploration is first and foremost a team effort. MIEM has a Project Fair where all potential managers and clients present their projects. They state the requirements for candidates: what they should know and be able to do, what kind of software they should be able to work with.

Maxim Diordiev

‘In the context of growing international competition for technological leadership, the creation of human resources through collaborations and programmes is becoming an important element of the strategy for the socio-economic development of our country. Young people are actively involved in research work and gain access to space and digital technologies through the creation and launch of satellites into Earth orbit by educational institutions', says Maxim Diordiev, Head of the Directorate for the Application of Satellite Systems, JSC Satellite System Gonets (sole operator for communication, broadcasting and retransmission systems of the Roscosmos State Corporation).

See also:

HSE University Satellites: Three Years in Orbit

In March 2024, HSE University celebrated an important milestone — the third anniversary of the successful operation in orbit of its first CubeSX-HSE and CubeSX-Sirius-HSE satellites. These spacecraft, created on the basis of the CubeSat platform for Earth observation, continue to function actively, confirming high technological standards and reliability of the university's developments.

HSE University’s Third Satellite Launched from Vostochny Cosmodrome

The small CubeSX-HSE-3 spacecraft was created by students and staff of the HSE Tikhonov Moscow Institute of Electronics and Mathematics. It is based on the OrbiCraft-Pro 3U platform by Sputnix. The work was carried out as part of the Space-π project with support from the Innovation Support Fund.

HSE University’s First Satellite Travels 478.7 Million km

The satellite entered orbit two years ago. The launch of the Soyuz-2.1a rocket with a Fregat upper stage and 38 satellites on board, including CubeSX-HSE, took place on March 22, 2021 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome.