UniSat-5 (University Satellite-5)
UniSat-5 is the fifth microsatellite of the UniSat program of the University of Rome (Universita di Roma “La Sapienza”, Scuola di Ingegneria Aerospaziale). The institution involved in the design, development and operation of small spacecraft is referred to as GAUSS (Group of Astrodynamics of the University of Roma “La Sapienza”). The UniSat program involves undergraduate, graduate and PhD students on small space missions. In the framework of this program, four university satellites, weighting about 10 kg, have been designed, manufactured and launched so far. These were: 1) 2)
• UniSat with a launch on Sept. 26, 2000
• UniSat-2 with a launch on Dec. 20, 2002
• UniSat-3 with a launch on June 29, 2004
• UniSat-4 with a launch on July 26, 2006 (did not reach orbit due to the Dnepr launch vehicle failure).
In 2011, after the closure of the School of Aerospace Engineering in Rome, the GAUSS team started a limited liability company (GAUSS Srl) which is following the more than ten-year old tradition of the Scuola di Ingegneria Aerospaziale.
UniSat-5 is the first satellite made by the GAUSS team as a company. The project involves also students and researchers from the Space Science Center of MSU (Morehead State University) Morehead, KY, USA, who are developing several of the spacecraft subsystems in collaboration with their Italian partners. A partnership agreement between MSU and GAUSS was signed in March 2011. 3)
UniSat-5 is a civilian scientific microsatellite and its primary mission is to test researcher’s home grown equipment in the space conditions, create heritage for the follow-on missions and provide hands on experience and training for students from different universities. The satellite, manufactured by university students and researchers, will carry four principal payloads: 4) 5)
1) GlioSat, a space biomedical experiment with the goal of investigating the combined effects of microgravity and ionizing radiation on Glioblastoma cells behavior, leaded by GAUSS Srl (Group of Astrodynamics for the Use of Space System) and the Aerospace Engineering School with the support of IRCCS research center and Space Science Center at Morehead State University
2) A stand-alone system for high definition digital imaging. The purpose of this system will be to observe Earth’s surface, as well as space debris in situ. It is composed of a camera, a telescope, C-band & S-band transceivers. Every component of this system is a commercially available product.
3) MRFOD (Morehead-Roma FemtoSat Orbital Deployer), a student-built technology demonstrator which will result in the ejection of two-femtosatellites called PocketQub (under 400 g) proposed by Robert J. Twiggs (currently at Morehead State University). The femtosatellites Eagle-1 (designed by MSU students), WREN and QBScout-1 will be ejected from UniSat-5 using MRFOD, already boarded on the EduSat satellite, designed by GAUSS (Group of Astrodynamics of University of Roma Sapienza). 6)
4) GAUSS Srl PEPPOD-CubeSat Deployer System: PEPPOD is a student-built technology demonstrator which will allow the deployment of a 1U CubeSat. The system, designed by GAUSS Srl, will allow the in-orbit injection of the first CubeSat designed by university students from Peru: PUCPSat-1, and other CubeSats such as HumSat-D, I-Cube1 and E-St@r-2.
In addition technological payloads will be tested on UniSat-5, such us a new coverglass system developed by Alta Srl in collaboration with GAUSS Srl. 7)
UniSat-5 is a cuboid manufactured using aluminum honeycomb reinforced by aluminum internal panels. In particular, two panels fixed in a X configuration characterize the satellite internal structure and allow to accommodate all the payloads and electronic boards. Its external side panels have a surface area of 50 cm x 50 cm. The total microsatellite mass is 28 kg.
EPS (Electrical Power Subsystem): The EPS is based on a photovoltaic system for power generation and Li-ion batteries for energy storage. The deployable solar panels, designed for UniSat-5, are equipped with triple-junction solar cells with a minimum average efficiency of 28% made by AzurSpace. Considering the attitude control system chosen for UniSat-5, the EPS guarantees (in the nominal case) 200 W of power for the microsatellite. In effect the attitude control guarantees that the same side is exposed to the sun at all times. In this way the solar radiation impinges normally onto the 4 deployable solar panels of the microsatellite.
UniSat-5 is equipped with 4 deployable solar panels, developed by the University of Pisa, Alta SpA and GAUSS Srl, to extend the surface area available to board solar cells, for a considerably improved power generation of the spacecraft (Figure 1). The method developed aimed at reducing cost by using dedicated, reliable “low-tech” techniques to assemble and qualify the panel and in additional development for applications on surfaces which are partially occupied. PCBs (Printed Circuit Boards) are used as substrate of the solar panels, since this method provides a means for surfaces which are partially occupied with solar cells; the reliability of the electrical connections between cells and the same PCB is improved . Bare cells are installed on PCBs by means of a double-sided insulating pressure sensitive adhesive tape, a “low-tech” method that gets rid of curing, so the entire panel is not exposure to high temperatures. The solar cells are covered with cerium-doped borosilicate glass, using a controlled volatility silicone glue, with a simple procedure where the bonding on the cell is performed with a dedicated vacuum bag technique, that has been developed and extensively tested in house, achieving a significant cost reduction with respect to traditional techniques, while retaining high performance and reliable repeatability. 8) 9)
ADCS (Attitude Determination and Control Subsystem): A sun-pointing attitude is required to perform space debris detection using the optical system. Attitude control is based on the use of magnetorquers and reaction wheels for coarse and fine control, respectively. The magnetorquers will also provide desaturation for the reaction wheels. The use of magnetorquers for the coarse control reduces the accumulation of angular momentum on the wheels and also gives the possibility of a continuous desaturation strategy allowing the use of smaller reaction wheels.
A multiple-step strategy can be adopted, realizing different control modes for each mission phase.
• Mode 1 (detumbling): dissipation of residual rotational energy
• Mode 2 (sun-pointing): when the first sun data are acquired by the coarse sun sensor, the satellite is pointing into the sun direction.
• Mode 3 (sun-pointing mode): the medium and fine sun sensors provide accurate measurements of the sun position and the control keeps the satellite pointing at the sun.
OBDH (On Board Data Handling) subsystem: The OBDH has three main tasks.
- It provides the attitude control tasks for the spacecraft throughout the mission in order to allow to have the correct power generation and the correct antenna and optical system pointing.
- It provides the management of the payload telemetry & command, performing data collection, processing and storage during the operative period.
- It maintains the interfaces to the on-board radio and to the other subsystems.
Two OBCs are installed on UniSat-5, the first one is based on the MSP430 microprocessor with software developed by GAUSS, the other one is under MSU student control.
TT&C (Tracking Telemetry and Command) subsystem: Use of a UHF/VHF radio from AstroDev. Other communication systems will be boarded to ensure a speedy downlink. In particular the satellite will be equipped with:
- S-band transmitter and receiver
- C-band transmitter and receiver
- UHF/VHF transmitter and receiver
The cooperative nature of the mission requires the microsatellite to be tracked by two ground stations. The SPIV (San Pietro In Vincoli) ground station is provided by GAUSS, while MSU (Morehead State University) uses its ground station on campus. Both ground stations are equipped with UHF/VHF and S-band systems. The MSU ground station features in addition a C-band system.
Launch: The UniSat-5 microsatellite was launched on Nov. 21, 2013 (07:10:11 UTC) as a secondary payload on a Dnepr-1 vehicle from the Yasny Cosmodrome in Russia. The launch provider was ISC Kosmotras of Moscow. The primary payloads on the flight were: DubaiSat-2 of EIAST, Dubai (mass of ~ 300 kg) and STSat-3 (Science and Technology Satellite-3) of KARI, Korea (mass of ~ 150 kg). 10) 11) 12) 13) 14)
The secondary payloads on this flight were:
• SkySat-1 of Skybox Imaging Inc., Mountain View, CA, USA, a commercial remote sensing microsatellite of ~100 kg.
• WNISat-1 (Weathernews Inc. Satellite-1), a nanosatellite (10 kg) of Axelspace, Tokyo, Japan.
• BRITE-PL-1, a nanosatellite (7 kg) of SRC/PAS (Space Research Center/ Polish Academy of Sciences of Warsaw, Poland.
• AprizeSat-7 and AprizeSat-8, nanosatellites of AprizeSat. AprizeSat-7 and 8 are the ninth and tenth satellites launched as part of the AprizeSat constellation, operated by AprizeSat. The constellation, which was originally named LatinSat, was initially operated by Aprize Argentina; however ownership of the constellation was later transferred to their US parent company AprizeSat. The AprizeSat constellation is used for store-dump communications, and some satellites carry AIS (Automatic Identification System) payloads for Canadian company ExactEarth. The AprizeSat spacecraft were built by SpaceQuest Ltd. Of Fairfax, VA, USA, and each has a mass of 12 kg. 15)
• UniSat-5, a microsatellite of the University of Rome (Universita di Roma “La Sapienza”, Scuola di Ingegneria Aerospaziale). The microsatellite has a mass of 28 kg and a size of 50 cm x 50 cm x 50 cm. When on orbit, UniSat-5 deployed the following satellites with 2 PEPPODs (Planted Elementary Platform for Picosatellite Orbital Deployer) of GAUSS:
- PEPPOD 1: ICube-1, a CubeSat of PIST (Pakistan Institute of Space Technology), Islamabad, Pakistan; HumSat-D (Humanitarian Satellite Network-Demonstrator), a CubeSat of the University of Vigo, Spain; PUCPSat-1 (Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú-Satellite), a 1U CubeSat of INRAS (Institute for Radio Astronomy), Lima, Peru; Note: PUCPSat-1 subsequently released a further satellite Pocket-PUCP when it was deployed on orbit.16) 17)
- PEPPOD 2: Dove-4, a 3U CubeSats of Cosmogia Inc., Sunnyvale, CA, USA
MRFOD (Morehead-Roma FemtoSat Orbital Deployer) of MSU (Morehead State University) is a further deployer system on UniSat-5 which deployed the following femtosats (PocketQubes):
- Eagle-1 (BeakerSat), a 1.5U PocketQube, and Eagle-2 ($50SAT) a 2.5U PocketQube, these are two FemtoSats of MSU (Morehead State University) and Kentucky Space; Wren, a FemoSat (1U PocketQube) of StaDoKo UG, Aachen, Germany; and QBSout-1S, a 2.5U PocketQube (400 g) of the University of Maryland testing a finely pointing sun sensor.
• Delfi-n3Xt, a nanosatellite (3.5 kg) of TU Delft (Delft University of Technology), The Netherlands.
• Triton-1 nanosatellite (3U CubeSat) of ISIS-BV, The Netherlands
• CINEMA-2 (KHUSat-1) and CINEMA-3 (KHUSat-2), nanosatellites (4 kg each) developed by KHU (Kyung Hee University), Seoul, Korea for the TRIO-CINEMA constellation.
• GOMX-1, a 2U CubeSat of GomSpace ApS of Aalborg, Denmark
• NEE-02 Krysaor, a CubeSat of EXA (Ecuadorian Civilian Space Agency)
• FUNCube-1, a CubeSat of AMSAT UK
• HiNCube (Hogskolen i Narvik CubeSat), a CubeSat of NUC (Narvik University College), Narvik, Norway.
• ZACUBE-1 (South Africa CubeSat-1), a 1U CubeSat (1.2 kg) of CPUT (Cape Peninsula University of Technology), Cape Town, South Africa.
• UWE-3, a CubeSat of the University of Würzburg, Germany. Test of an active ADCS for CubeSats.
• First-MOVE (Munich Orbital Verification Experiment), a CubeSat of TUM (Technische Universität München), Germany.
• Velox-P2, a 1U CubeSat of NTU (Nanyang Technological University), Singapore.
• OPTOS (Optical nanosatellite), a 3U CubeSat of INTA (Instituto Nacional de Tecnica Aerospacial), the Spanish Space Agency, Madrid.
• Dove-3, a 3U CubeSats of Cosmogia Inc., Sunnyvale, CA, USA
• CubeBug-2, a 2U CubeSat from Argentina (sponsored by the Argentinian Ministry of Science, Technology and Productive Innovation) which will serve as a demonstrator for a new CubeSat platform design.
• BPA-3 (Blok Perspektivnoy Avioniki-3) — or Advanced Avionics Unit-3) of Hartron-Arkos, Ukraine.
Deployment of CubeSats: Use of 9 ISIPODs of ISIS, 3 XPODs of UTIAS/SFL, 2 PEPPODs of GAUSS, and 1 MRFOD of MSU.
Orbit: Sun-synchronous orbit, altitude of ~ 600 km, inclination = 97.5º, period = 98 minutes, LTAN (Local Time on Ascending Node) = 10:30 hours.
Sensor complement: (DIP)
DIP (Digital Imaging Payload):
The objective of DIP is to monitor space debris with a high-resolution imager. DIP is composed of a Schmidt Cassegrain telescope and a camera. It has been designed to keep the entire volume and weight to a minimum.
DIP will make use of the sun-pointing attitude in order to take pictures of the High-LEO and MEO belts, during the passage through Earth's shadow. The geometry of the Earth shadow cone, whose vertex is pointed towards the outer orbits, allows to look for debris during their passages in the penumbra region, as well as in the zones which have direct sunlight. 18) 19)
The main component of DIP is the camera which acts as an independent OBDH for the CMOS detector and mass storage control.
The camera used in DIP is the Elphel NC353L-369 network camera. It has been selected for the mission because of its compact size, little power consumption and high flexibility regarding mass storage peripherals and power handling. The camera can shoot a video or take a single snapshot, depending on user request. The camera has an Ethernet connection both for data I/O and power. This connection is used to link the camera directly to the RF transceivers. A web server containing several functions can be activated by sending a HTTP connection request to the system.
The GPIO (General Purpose Input/Ouput) connection is used to link the NC353L to the spacecraft OBDH, which will transmit the command to shoot whenever the solar panels are in Earth shadow. The camera is connected to a SSD (Solid State Drive) mass storage via the SATA (Serial ATA) connection. The automated image-taking process dumps the recorded media in this disk, and the subsequent data download request by the user is passed to the camera network server, which starts the upload process.
The CMOS 5 Mpixel detector is an APTINA device, optimized for the RGB color profile. An IR-cut filter can be easily removed, therefore increasing the range of sensed wavelengths beyond 720 nm.
Color image sensor
Effective pixel number
2592 x 1936 (5,018,112)
70 dB (76 dB @ 2 x 2 binning)
Sensor output (data quantization)
12 bit ADC
On chip binning and dec.
25 µs to hours
Analog and digital (0-12 dB)
200 MHz 32 bit Axis Etrax FS
128 MB SDRAM, 128 MB NAND
Xilinx Spartan® 3e 1200 K
Mass, power consumption
230 g, 2.4-5.8 W, 12 V unregulated
Telescope: The telescope used in DIP is the Celestron C5 Schmidt-Cassegrain reflector. It has been chosen for its compact size, nevertheless its large focal length yields a narrow FOV. It is compatible with focusing kits, which can be commanded by the spacecraft OBDH. This telescope can be matched with several other accessories, such as Barlow lenses or focal reducers, thus making it highly versatile. The telescope has an aperture of 127 mm, a focal length 0f 1250 mm, an optical tube length of 330 mm, and a mass of 2.722 kg.
RF transceivers: The transceivers used for DIP are Ubiquiti Bullet 2HP and the Bullet M5. These radios are consumer grade Wi-Fi network routers, using the ISM allocated S-band and C-band. Each radio is assembled into a single PCB of size 107mm x 32 mm. Both transceivers have a serial interface that can be connected to the main OBDH for debug purposes. The original RF connector soldered to the board is a n-type, which has been replaced with a standard SMA (Sub Miniature version A) connector. A T-junction connects each radio to the camera, while the power over the Ethernet cables is independently wired to the spacecraft BCR (Battery Charge Regulator). The spacecraft OBDH commands the activation of either the transceivers.
Antennas: The microstrip antennas used for the system have been designed for this specific mission and the operating frequency of the transceivers. The EM simulation environment used is HFSS. The microstrip type is the pin-fed rectangular patch antenna, which is rather easy to manufacture while being circularly polarized. The S-band antenna has a SMA male connector, while the C-band works with a MMCX (Micro Miniature Coaxial) connector.
Image processing: The images downloaded from the satellite will be used to search objects in higher orbits. The visible stars in the images will be correlated to the Tycho-2 catalog to obtain a very good estimation of the pointing direction of the telescope. The small FOV of the telescope, respect to a common star tracker, forces the use of a big catalog including faint stars. The initial satellite attitude estimation will help the search over the large catalog decreasing the search time.
Deployer systems of UniSat-5:
PEPPOD (Planted Elementary Platform for Picosatellite Orbital Deploying)
The general idea of the GAUSS Srl team is provide CubeSat customers an opportunity to integrate their smallsats into a microsatellite to share the launch costs. The PEPPOD concept allows to integrate and separate 1U, 2U and 3U cubesats from the UniSat-5 microsatellite. 21)
The PEPPOD system consists of two elements: the main body and the sponger system.
The PEPPOD main body is composed of four lateral plates, a bottom plate and a rotating door held together by screws and hinges. The rails along which the spacecraft slides are included on each single lateral plate in order to limit the number of screws.
Sponger system: The sponger system is the most important part of the PEPPOD. It has to be able to slide along the rails without friction using a big compression spring, located under the sponger plate, to create the correct force to push the spacecraft out. It is composed by the spring guard and the sponger plate. The spring guard is a safety precaution to ensure isolation of the CubeSats from the spring.
The sponger plate is the interface between the primary spring ejection system and the CubeSats. The spring will push the plate in order to release the CubeSat. It is equipped with two switches that will open after the CubeSat deployment.
PEPPOD dimensions: The PEPPOD axes are shown in Figure 9. The PEPPOD door is located on the +Z face of PEPPOD. It secures the CubeSats inside of the PEPPOD and maintains the tension on the spring. The PEPPOD interior dimensions along the Y-axis are 100.1 mm, along the X-axis are 100.1 mm. The external dimension of a 3U PEPPOD along the Z-axis is 340.5 mm. All satellites that match the CubeSat standards can be boarded inside a standard PEPPOD. All CubeSats boarded inside the PEPPOD system shall protrude up to 10 mm along X and Y directions (instead of 6.5 mm as described in the CubeSat Standards).
PEPPOD opening system: The deployment system is identical for 3U, 2U and 1U PEPPODs; it is composed of two parts: a small PCB (Printed Circuit Board) for the thermal cutting, and an aluminum latch. The PCB is fixed onto the PEPPOD structure while the latch is linked to the structure by a hinge (Figure 14).
When in folded configuration, the latch keeps the PEPPOD door closed and the spacecraft is kept inside the PEPPOD. When the thermal cutting is activated, the latch is free to rotate around the hinge axis under the combined actions of a torsion spring and three compression springs. Under these conditions, the door opens and the spacecraft can be expelled from the structure, using a compressed spring, located at the bottom of the PEPPOD structure.
Deployment activation: each PEPPOD contains an electrical deployment system that will be activated by command from the GAUSS team ground station. In the UniSat-5/PEPPOD mission, three different commands will be used for the deployment of the CubeSats.
• The first command allows the PEPPOD#1 door opening, initiating the deployment of the CubeSats: ICube-1, HumSat-D and PUCPSat-1.
- ICube-1 (IST CubeSat-1), a 1U CubeSat of IST (Institute of Space Technology), Islamabad, Pakistan. 22)
- HumSat-D (Humanitarian Satellite Network-Demonstrator), a 1U CubeSat of the University of Vigo, Spain. HumSat-D is the first (hence, a demonstrator) satellite of the future HUMSAT constellation. 23) 24)
- PUCPSat-1 (Pontifica Universidad Católica del Peru Satellite-1), a Peruvian CubeSat developed by the faculty and students of INRAS (Institute for Radio Astronomy) at PUCP (Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú), Lima, Peru. 25)
• The second command from the GAUSS ground station opens the PEPPOD#2 door, initiating the release of the Dove-4 nanosatellite, a 3U CubeSat of Cosmogia Inc., Sunnyvale, CA, USA.
• Command #3 will activate the PEPPOD#3 door, resulting in the deployment of E-ST@r-2 (Educational SaTellite @ politecnico di toRino-2), a CubeSat of the Politecnico di Torino, Turin, Italy.
The PEPPOD demonstration mission is implemented on the UniSat-5 microsatellite of GAUSS at the University of Rome (La Sapienza), Italy.
MRFOD (Morehead-Roma FemtoSat Orbital Deployer)
UniSat-5 will deploy four femto?class satellites (each with a mass of < 0.5 kg), two of which were developed by Morehead State University students and faculty. The femtosatellites (invented by Morehead Professor Bob Twiggs), called PocketQub™s, will be ejected from the UniSat?5 mothership at apogee. Morehead State University has built two of the PocketQub™s in house, with the others built by university students in the US and in Europe. These femtosats will be among the smallest satellites ever launched. Each will have Earth and Space monitoring sensors and test micro/nano technology for space applications. 26)
The orbital deployers—called the MRFODs (Morehead –Roma Femtosatellite Orbital Deployers) were designed and built by undergraduate students in the Morehead State University space science program. The orbital deployer was conceived to provide a reliable and adaptable deployment system for the recently developed PocketQub standard as well as other femto?class satellite form factors. To accelerate prototyping of the MRFODs, the 3D printer at the Space Science Center was used. 3?D printing is an additive manufacturing, rapid prototyping technology that greatly facilitates the engineering design process. Printed prototype models provide a quick turnaround time and a cost effective alternative to developing prototypes from traditional materials and with costly machinging processes (.
The 3D printed models have been invaluable in development and testing; including: functionality and fit?checks. Using this technique, the MRFOD systems were conceived, designed, prototyped, tested, and flight models were produced in under 9 months. Using traditional manufacturing processes for prototyping the engineering models would have taken significantly longer and would have cost several times as much to produce.
The femtosatellites Eagle-1 (designed by MSU students) and QBScout-1 will be ejected from UniSat-5 using the orbital deployer MRFOD (Ref. 6).
UniSat-5 mission results: 27)
• The PEPPOD and the MRFOD Systems correctly released 4 PocketQubeSat and 3 CubeSats
• PocketQubes have been successfully launched in space for the first time
• 6 of 7 satellites have been received
• DOVE-4 was not deployed (safety procedure was not applied after customer request).
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The information compiled and edited in this article was provided by Herbert J. Kramer from his documentation of: ”Observation of the Earth and Its Environment: Survey of Missions and Sensors” (Springer Verlag) as well as many other sources after the publication of the 4th edition in 2002. - Comments and corrections to this article are always welcome for further updates (email@example.com).