In the most important category of this sort of Space Oscars, ESA Sentinel Small Sat Challenge, the team led by the Technical University of Catalonia (UPC)/Institute of Space Studies of Catalonia (IEEC), together with Elecnor Deimos, through its Portuguese branch Deimos Engenharia, was awarded the first prize. The Award Ceremony took place on November 7th, in Tallin, Estonia, during the European Space Week 2017. The team was also granted the overall Copernicus Masters Award.
In this challenge proposed by the European Space Agency (ESA), to which 39 teams applied, the objective was to stimulate ground-breaking satellite technologies leading to new small mission concepts, either complementary or providing added value to the current European large Earth Observation satellites.
The prize, in the amount of one million euros, was given to the idea proposed by two Principal Investigators from UPC/IEEC, Prof. Adriano Camps and Visiting Prof. Alessandro Golkar, together with Deimos Engenharia, a major Portuguese space system engineering company, and a leading manufacturer of small satellite platforms. It will be used on the production of two-nanosatellites, with important scientific equipment on board.
This mission will test the new concept of federated mission, in which the overall purpose is shared among several satellites
With their launch scheduled for the first quarter of 2019, from French Guiana, the satellites will collect data on soil moisture improving significantly the current spatial resolution from 50 km down to around 100 m, thanks to an innovative technology that has been developed by UPC and Elecnor Deimos for more than 15 years in other ESA missions (such as SMOS, G-TERN Earth Explorer 9 proposal), National and European projects (E-GEM, SenSyF, ONION…). Soil moisture is a crucial variable for agriculture and for feeding fire risk index calculations. The mission will also measure data relative to the ice thickness in Polar Regions, a fundamental parameter for maritime navigation and tracking climate change.
This mission in particular will test the new concept of federated mission, in which the overall purpose is shared among several satellites. In this case, the satellites, with an approximate dimension of a laptop carrying case, will fly in Space at an altitude of 450 to 550 km, separated between themselves by a few hundreds of kilometers, and will be communicating through optical laser beams, a state-of-the-art technology that enables much higher volumes of information to be transmitted with great immunity to interferences, as compared to current inter-satellite radio links, and which is fundamental for establishing reliable satellite networks in Space, but so far only tested in large satellites.
“The satellites will work in synergy. An innovative concept named federated system or fractionated satellite, in which each satellite specializes and accomplishes particular tasks, which are conjugated to achieve an overall better result. In this way, constellations of low cost small satellites can be used instead of costly large satellites. Also, the risk of mission failure is mitigated because we are not putting the eggs all in the same basket”, Nuno Ávila – general manager of Elecnor Deimos in Portugal says.
For Prof. Adriano Camps, from UPC, one of the Principal Investigators of this mission “We are facing a change in paradigm on the way ESA contracts. This is clearly a turning point” states the professor, to whom, the award of the Prize is a clear “recognition at European level of the work the team has been doing for the past twenty years in this field, in particular in the sector of Earth Observation nano-satellites”.
Image: FSSCat Mission Concept (© UPC)