In addition to its vital components, every satellite that is launched into space also carries a mission that gives it meaning. In the space industry, these tasks are called missions, without which a satellite is not even launched.
While 30 years ago nobody thought about garbage in space, today it is one of the dominating topics in the space industry. Increasing pollution of near-Earth orbits makes future space missions more difficult and the risk of collisions with space debris increases.
This is why we have made it our mission to test two optical satellite identification technologies with our CubeSat mission in cooperation with the Space Safety Office of the European Space Agency ESA. These identification technologies provide information about the CubeSat’s attitude, position and movement in space and thus provide important insights that are needed for the active removal of objects in space.
Our mission consists of 2 main components: An ELROI and a set of retroreflectors.
The ELROI, short for “Extremely Low Resource Optical Identifier”, is a kind of optical number plate for a satellite. Activated by laser from a ground station, the ELROI uses diodes to flash back a unique binary identifier that allows the satellite to be identified passively and by any adequately equipped ground station. This technology has not yet been successfully tested on microsatellites.
Considering the rapidly increasing number of objects in space and the plans to build mega-constellations with hundreds of satellites, it is all the more necessary to be able to identify these very similar flying objects quickly and easily.
Like the ELROI, the retroreflectors are a completely passive system. Retroreflectors are an everyday technology: they can be found in the form of cat’s eyes in the spokes of bicycles, for example. The retroreflectors for the satellite play a very similar role to those on a bicycle. Illuminated by a third person, they are easily and quickly recognizable and signal to the observer where the cyclist is, in which direction and how fast he is moving. Similarly, however, we use a ground station with a laser as an observer and thus propagate the orbit and the orientation and rotation rate of the satellite. This procedure works independently of the satellite itself, so that even if the satellite is defective or if contact with the satellite is temporarily broken, it is possible to record the satellite dynamics.
The tasks of the Missions Subsection include the analysis and definition of mission requirements. Furthermore, we also take care of the mission payload, the mission components later installed in the satellite such as the ELROI and the reflectors. We also deal with any other requirements related to the complete history of the satellite from launch to re-entry. This includes, for example, finding a rocket launch that will put our satellite into orbit, as well as monitoring compliance with the requirements of the various space agencies.
Then why not drop by one of our meetings. Our weekly meeting takes place every Monday at 17:00 in room S3|06 509 (Hans Busch Institute). If you have any questions, please feel free to contact the team leader of the Mission Vanessa Neumann.