Sunday, January 29, 2012

Technion Trinity in Space


Formation flying mini satellites under development at the Asher Space Research Institute.
Technion researchers are planning to launch three nano-satellites of up to 6kg each into
space. The project was unveiled to global space agency representatives and space
researchers on January 30, 2012 at the Ilan Ramon International Space Conference of the
Israel Ministry of Science and Technology and the Fisher Institute.

"For the first time ever, an attempt will be made to launch three satellites that will fly
together in a controlled formation. To date, such a launch was not possible due to the size
and weight of the satellites, and because of the problems associated with the launch of
satellites in a uniform formation and their prolonged stay in space", says Prof. Pini Gurfil of
the Faculty of Aerospace Engineering and the Asher Space Research Institute.

The Technion researchers aim the launch the experimental trio in 2015. The satellites will
attempt to receive signals from Earth at given frequencies, and to calculate the location of
the transmission's origin. The receiving of signals transmitted from Earth to space using
several nano-satellites flying in formation is an experiment that no man has ventured before.
If it succeeds, formation flying nano satellites can be developed further for applications such
as locating survivors in disaster zones.

Another aim of the experiment is to prove that a uniform, controlled formation of satellites
can be held for one year in a 600 km orbit above Earth. For this purpose, researchers are
planning to install on each of the satellites a propulsion system that will assist in maintaining
the formation in space longer.

The satellites are planned to be built based on a CubeSat standard structure, whose parts will
be assembled by the researchers with the assistance of students. The satellite formation
comprises of six cubes, each 10x10x10 cm, such that each satellite will have a 10x20x30 cm
box. These boxes will carry measuring instruments, antennae, computer systems, control
systems, and navigation instruments. The software and the algorithms that will manage the
flight are developed in the Distributed Space Systems Laboratory at the Technion's Asher
Space Research Institute and the UAV cluster of the Autonomous Systems Program at the
Technion. The nano-satellite formation will be launched as a supplementary payload on an
existing launch, through Europe, Russia or India.

The ambitious project is based on a prototype that was designed by Prof. Gurfil thanks to a
1.5 million euro grant he received from the European Union. The Technion hopes to get
additional support that will enable the actual development of the micro-satellites and their
launch.

"If we manage to prove in the experiment that the formation flight is possible, this will
provide a momentum to the development of small satellites and technologies related to the
miniaturization of electronic components, to efficient processing in space and to space
propulsion systems. These technologies could contribute to a variety of civil applications and
to the advancement of the Israeli space industry", says Prof. Gurfil and adds: "another goal
of the project is to contribute to the practical training of space engineers, which is why
undergraduate and graduate students will fill practical roles in the examination of various
aspects related to the mission and in the development of the system. The designated training
and practical experience of space engineers are essential to Israel's future in this field".

In July 1998, researchers and students of the Faculty of Aerospace Engineering at the
Technion launched the satellite Gurwin TechSAT 2. The satellite, one of the smallest satellites
of its kind in the world, succeeded in remaining in space and completing all its tasks for
about 12 years.


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