Student satellite good to go

A low Earth orbit spacecraft designed and built by European university students is to be launched from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in September.

SSETI Express, a low Earth orbit spacecraft designed and built by European university students under the supervision of ESA’s Education Department, is to be launched from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome on a Russian Cosmos 3M launcher on the morning of September 27.

The SSETI (Student Space Exploration and Technology Initiative) Express is a small spacecraft, similar in size and shape to a washing machine (approx. 60x 60x 90 cm). Weighing about 62 kg, it has a payload of 24 kg.

Onboard the student-built spacecraft will be three pico-satellites, extremely small satellites that weigh around 1 kg each; these will be deployed once SSETI Express is in orbit.

In addition to acting as a test bed for many designs, including a cold-gas attitude control system, SSETI Express will take pictures of the Earth and function as a radio transponder.

The SSETI Express satellite was designed and built mainly by students under the supervision of ESA’s Education Department. The principal sub-systems (power control unit, UHF unit for communications, onboard computer to control the satellite, attitude control system, propulsion system and camera) were developed at various European universities.

The satellite has taken just 18 months to progress from kick-off to flight readiness review, which probably makes it the fastest spacecraft design and construction project ever, hence the name “Express”.

By using donated materials, equipment and expertise – from ESA, universities and industry – total hardware expenditure by ESA’s Education Department has been kept below 100,000 Euros.