CubeSats and Education: the Fly Your Satellite! programme

CubeSats are nanosatellites of standardised dimensions, composed of one or more units that are 10x10x10cm in size and that have a mass of up to 1.33kg. To date, the vast majority of CubeSat activities belong to the category of radio amateur or university projects. Smaller in size and faster to develop than bigger classes of satellites, CubeSats offer students a true hands-on experience in designing, developing, testing, and operating a real spacecraft system and its ground segment. Lately, CubeSats have also started to show an increasing potential for commercial use, and are recognised as one of the current top trends in space activities  (ASD-Eurospace, Space Trends 2014: Global Space Activity Overview. 3rd Edition, June 2014, p. 15).

Aware of their strong educational value, the ESA Education Office has undertaken several initiatives in the CubeSat domain, all involving teams of university students. They range from the launch of seven student-built CubeSats onboard ESA’s Vega Maiden Flight in 2012, to technical and managerial support to CubeSat teams during their test campaigns (e.g.  the support offered to the HumSat-D satellite environmental test campaign),  to the ongoing Fly Your Satellite! programme, ESA’s most thorough educational initiative to date that makes use of CubeSats.

Fly your Satellite!

Fly Your Satellite! (FYS) is an educational programme whose main, but not only, focus is the verification campaign of CubeSats built by university students – a phase with high learning value for the students . The programme was kicked off with the help of  six CubeSat teams selected in June 2013. The programme aims at offering students the opportunity to benefit from the transfer of technical competence and experience from ESA specialists. In addition, by teaching best practises for spacecraft design, development and verification, the programme aims at increasing the CubeSats’ chances for mission success.

One programme, four phases

The FYS programme is structured in four phases, from the integration of the CubeSat Flight Model up to the operation of the satellite in space. During each phase, the CubeSats have to undergo expert reviews that need to be passed in order for the student teams to gain access to the following phase. In the current edition of the programme, the four phases, all run under the supervision of space experts, are:

  • Build Your Satellite! In this phase, the student teams complete the integration of their satellite and execute the necessary functional tests in laboratory conditions;
  • Test Your Satellite! In this phase, the students execute environmental tests, exposing their satellite to vibration, vacuum and temperature conditions representative of what will be experienced during the actual mission in space; 
  • Ticket to Orbit! In this phase, the students prepare their satellite to be launched, undergo the Launch acceptance review, and run the campaign of integration of their satellite into the launcher;
  • CubeSats in Space! In this phase the student teams finally see their satellite launched into space and perform satellite operations to accomplish their space mission.

Only the student teams that demonstrate the good functionality of their satellite both in ambient and space representative conditions, and that demonstrate compliance with all applicable requirements, can access the fourth phase of the programme.  This phase consists in   launching and operating the satellite in orbit. The launch opportunity is offered by the ESA Education Office.  

Quick Facts

Project: Fly Your Satellite!
Level: University
Status: Ongoing
Contact: Piero Galeone, education @ esa.int

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