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UK Space Agency - Status update for record breaking UK-Algeria CubeSat mission AlSat Nano

AlSat Nano has been successfully operating in orbit for over 9 months. As it approaches its one year milestone we provide a status update and a summary of mission impact so far.

Launched on September 26 2016 the UK Space Agency funded nanosatellite, delivered in collaboration with the Algerian Space Agency, met its core mission objectives back in February and is on track to complete even more advanced objectives within its first year of operations.

Status summary:

  • Stable, healthy spacecraft platform
  • All subsystems functional – over 15,000 ground to space commands successfully sent
  • Strong communications link – over 1000 files downloaded so far
  • Low spin rate
  • Longest uptime: 27.4 days
  • On board Attitude Determination Control System verified and activated
  • Regular datasets returned for Thin Film Solar Cell payload
  • Multiple image capture and download for all three C3D2 payload cameras – 105 image files downloaded in total so far, including 16 full size images
  • AstroTube Boom payload deployed and stowed multiple times, incl. full 1.5 metre length, captured with dedicated C3D2 camera

World Firsts and World Records

AlSat Nano has provided Oxford Space Systems with the first flight of its innovative flexible carbon fibre composite boom payload, the AstroTube Boom, which is believed to have set a world first as the longest ever retractable CubeSat boom in orbit at 1.5 metres. Oxford Space Systems also believe they have set the space industry’s fastest full cycle hardware development; material design to in orbit demonstration in under 30 months.

This has been enabled by AlSat Nano’s rapid development programme, just 18 months between spacecraft design and flight readiness. This has allowed industrial and academic mission partners to stay ahead of the curve in the increasingly competitive global nanosatellite market.

The Thin Film Solar Cell test payload, led by Swansea University, is the first solar cell deposited directly onto cover glass to be deployed in space and successfully return data. The ultra-thin (just 1/10th of a millimetre thick) cover glass, developed by industrial partners Qioptiq Ltd, allows for extremely high power to weight ratio which is crucial for saving costs in spaceflight. Flight data returned so far show extremely promising performance, and with proven materials heritage there are now clear routes to secure further funding and eventually commercialise the payload.

Mission impact

The flight opportunity is providing major benefits to those involved already. Below is a snap shot of some of the highlights captured so far by mission partners, which they view as directly attributable to their role in AlSat Nano:

Additional contracts and competitiveness

  • Surrey Space Centre’s (University of Surrey) role as mission prime has led to successful bids in a range of technology development and international collaboration projects. Knowledge and experience from leading the mission has fed directly in to other ongoing projects

  • Oxford Space Systems negotiating approx. £5.6 million export contracts across US, Europe and Israel, plus further enquiries from NASA and Asia, for derivatives of its AstroTube Boom payload and antenna systems based on its proprietary flexible composites
  • Open University’s industrial partners XCAM Ltd are bidding/negotiating contracts worth approx. £1.1 million following on from its payload role, and Teledyne e2v Ltd, which provided the sensor hardware, are using C3D2 heritage as inputs in to bids worth £2 million+
  • Surrey Space Centre industrial partner SSTL secured €12 million contract with Algerian Space Agency

Increased Knowledge and Experience

AlSat Nano was delivered to Algerian Space Agency as its first nanosatellite mission. The programme has seen direct involvement from Algerian staff and students throughout its development:

  • The UK Space Agency sponsored five Algerian post graduate students to study at Surrey Space Centre and gain invaluable experience by taking on roles to help develop the AlSat Nano platform
  • Surrey Space Centre also provided training and consultation to Algerian Space Agency engineers and spacecraft operators, to help build its new ground station facility in Oran, which is being used to operate AlSat Nano
  • The flight data returned from the satellite is feeding directly into the Algerian students’ academic courses. These contain specific modules to study how small satellite technology can be applied to address real world problems. The qualifications and real life mission experience will build long term technological capability in the country’s developing space sector

New partnerships and collaborations

  • Surrey Space Centre and Oxford Space Systems have now teamed up for the RemoveDebris mission, due for launch in late 2017

  • Surrey Space Centre and University of Swansea are working on further Thin Film Solar Cell development * AlSat Nano has facilitated Algerian interaction with a wide range of UK academic and industrial mission partners, acting as a firm basis for potential future collaborations
  • XCAM Ltd are now working with 6 other industrial-academic partners for Innovate UK funded cold atom CubeSat mission CASPA
  • Oxford Space Systems have partnered with Sen to provide camera deployment boom for high-resolution video from orbit
  • Surrey Space Centre is working with the Algerian Space Agency on a large scope follow up proposal with the objectives of setting up a local education and research centre, built using Surrey Space Centre as a blueprint, and deploying a CubeSat constellation for monitoring atmospheric pollution

Job Creation and Value

  • As the first in orbit flight demonstration for Oxford Space Systems, AlSat Nano has helped grow the SME company’s staff size by approximately 50% and achieved significant global profile raising. The successful mission role has provided excellent credibility when talking with potential domestic and overseas customers, and proven very valuable in investment negotiations with the venture capital community

  • Within Surrey Space Centre (University of Surrey), the AlSat Nano programme has led to the creation of 5 jobs, two of which are permanent positions, while the others are on renewable contracts to be funded by further missions

Internal investment

  • Surrey Space Centre internal investment of approx. £125,000 to upgrade environmental test facilities, which will now be available to commercial customers
  • The Open University has invested approx. £35,000 in a UHF/VHF Ground Station for the OpenSTEMLab to enable practical satellite communications activities for distance learning students and enable new research opportunities
  • XCAM Ltd internal investment of approx. £20,000 in thermal cycling test chamber

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