Europe to Space is an ambitious initiative aimed to help university students follow their dreams of sending an object to space. The initiative helps to retain and promote students in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). Conducted by a group of private companies from Spain, Europe to Space reaches university students from all engineering majors, directly or indirectly related to space. It introduces them to the space industry from early stages.
The students participate in a project to send a small satellite to the space, without requiring them to being pursuing a degree or a master in aerospace. The phases of the project go from the mission concept, development of flight components, integration and test of a functional satellite, up to the launch campaign and following operations.
The small satellites are designed, produced, and tested complying the most demanding standards of the space industry, allowing the participants gain valuable knowledge that will be used during their careers.
The CubeSat and PocketQube standards
In 1999 two professors from a university in the United States proposed the creation of a standard for small satellites that will allow students put their hands on a very representative satellite, with educational purposes. This was the creation of the CubeSat standard. After the success the project had, one of the co-creators of the standard, Dr. Jordi Puig-Suari, proposed a standardization of the mounting interface with the launch vehicle. That was the spark that ignited everything. Since then, more than 3,500 small satellites have been launched. A new era on the aerospace industry started, the New Space.
A CubeSat is a satellite classified in terms of units of volume, or U. One unit is a cube of 10 cm by side with a maximum mass initially defined to be up to 1.33 kilograms. Thus, there exist configurations of 1U, 2U, 3U, 6U, 8U, 12U, and 16U in a standardized form. Because of this standardization, today launching a CubeSat is almost as simple as buying a ticket for a plane.
However, the price to put these small satellite in orbit is not always affordable for educational institutions outside of the United States. This was the main reason why Prof. Bob Twiggs, the other co-creator of the CubeSat standard proposed the creation of a smaller form factor, named PocketQubes. These picosatellites have one eight of the size of a one unit CubeSat. In this case each unit is named P (as in Pocket). So, 1P is a small cube with 5 cm by side.
As incredible as it may sound, the satellites produced under both standards are fully functional, and they allow performing real applications in space. That is the reason that both are an excellent educational platform which allow students to put their hands on a real mission at a very reduced cost.
Which fields are important?
Besides from what many people believe, the development required for the space industry are not made only by "Rocket Scientists" or "Aerospace Engineers". We encourage people who are pursuing a major in the following fields to participate:
- Electrical & Electronics
Moreover, because of the scientific research that can be conducted from space, all science fields also apply.
A few examples are worth mentioning. In the last couple of years, AI (Artificial Intelligence) has becoming a popular science in space applications, giving more capability to the satellites allowing processing onboard a huge amount of data. Also, programs related to space exploration and the creation of a permanent base on the Moon, have attracted people from other fields like architects, psychologists, and mining companies.
What is the purpose of the project?
Europe to Space has been though carefully to allow students get the most of the received money. Every penny received by contributions will be invested in the project, either because it directly applies to them, or because indirectly will benefit the students.
The target for the first mission is to obtain enough funds to allow 32 universities send their own satellites to orbit. If the project is totally funded, the money will cover the recording of the course, the design and development of the satellite kit, the paperwork for the licenses and logistics to the launch site, the ground testing, and launch to orbit.
To better distribute the received money, the project has been divided in three phases that require funding:
The first phase goes toward the creation of a course with specific contents, providing support at an introductory level for those who have no background in space. This course will go through what makes space travel so hard, and what are the techniques applied to cope with that.
The second phase is focused in the creation of an educational kit, based on the PocketQube standard. First, it will be needed to design, build, and test a prototype to finally produce the satellite kits that will be delivered to the students. The kit includes all that is required to have a platform, capable of going to space, that will let the students learn, modify, test, expand, or even replace components to achieve the mission that they will be proposing.
The third phase is focused in obtaining the funds to overcome with testing and launch costs. A satellite cannot be serviced while in orbit, as it would be the case for almost any electronic object located on Ground. Because of this, the satellites require going through extensive testing to reduce the risk of failure during launch and the planned lifespan. These tests are not simple, nor cheap. Special equipment is needed, and many engineering hours to test all what is needed. The market price for these test are around €24,000 for a small satellite or a component. On the other hand, a huge amount of energy is required to take every kilogram to space, which makes launch costs very expensive. To sort this out, the project will develop a satellite based on the PocketQube standard, with satellites weighting around 350 grams. The launch market price for a satellite with such characteristics is around €45,000. However, the scale of operations will make both costs decrease significantly. Other costs are associated with the launch as well, as are required licenses, and logistics.
If more money is received, or the cost estimations exceed the actual costs, the extra will be used to allow research institutes and other non-for-profit organizations participate in the Europe to Space project. Also, additional components may be of interest to be acquired, such as a dedicated ground station, needed to receive the data sent by the satellites, and to operate them.
The Introductory Course to Space
Sending an object to space has many challenges, mostly because the behavior of space is very different to how it is on ground. This is the main focus of the course. It will give the students the tools needed to understand and design a real mission. It takes many years an Aerospace Engineer to acquire the knowledge, so this course will be very precise on what is important for each field. For example, what are the techniques used in software to increase reliability of the system, or the type of material the mechanical engineers have to consider when designing a piece of hardware.
Europe to Space will offer students with 30 hours of specific information that has been structured to let them know the most important aspects when designing a product to survive in space. Thus, students from fields other than aerospace, that are also very important for the industry, can have a better idea of what is needed to succeed.
The course will be created by experts on each field, from many different companies. UARX Space will coordinate the creation and edition of this material to put it in a virtual platform that will be able to be accessed as many times as needed by the students.
The course will develop the following central topics:
- Introduction to Space
- Space Systems Design
- Space Environment and Space Debris
- Missions and Orbits
- The Flight Kit
These contents are to be created by UARX Space and its collaborators. The language of the material will be in English, with subtitles in different languages for the videos.
A development and flight kit for the students
The educational kit is based on a very innovative design, the result of many years of experience of the sponsors of Europe to Space, applied to this project.
The satellite kit will include the following components:
- One onboard computer (OBC)
- One communications system, including RF and antenna components
- One satellite structure
- A power subsystem to generate, regulate and store energy
- A well defined interface to allow the inclusion of a payload
- The required ground support equipment
Also, the kit includes a software development environment, based on open-source tools, to allow students to start interacting and developing applications with the satellite right away.