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Small and Medium Enterprise Satellite (SME-SAT)

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CubeSat technology validation

SMEs form the backbone of the European economy, providing a potential source of growth. An EU-funded initiative has demonstrated that SMEs can also be players in the space technology sector.

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Large-scale system integrators use nanosatellites (with a mass between 1 and 10 kg) as technology test beds, while SMEs have focused on nanosatellite solutions. Many SMEs already provide components and subsystems as part of their product portfolio. The SME-SAT (Small and medium enterprise satellite) project brought together one of the largest ever SME-based consortiums to qualify a broad range of technologies for space. Systems and subsystems were integrated into a nanosatellite. Each SME in the consortium was responsible for contributing a particular spacecraft system, including attitude determination and control systems, star trackers and magnetometers. A commercially available off-the-shelf 3U structure 100 mm x 100 mm x 340.5 mm was used to house them. Solar arrays were mounted on the outside of the structure to provide a renewable energy source to the bespoke systems. Inside the structure, sensors were connected to common PC-104 boards that interface with the rest of the nanosatellite bus. The majority of the payload is internal, except for the accelerometers and gyroscopes. These were placed on a deployable boom that moves them about 30 cm away from the nanosatellite. SMEs have always cooperated closely with academics, as this new generation of entrepreneurs is mostly university alumni. The SME-SAT project represented a unique space mission, fostering new alliances between SMEs, universities and large-scale system integrators. The SME-SAT CubeSat was placed in Sun-synchronous orbit at an altitude of 400 or 600 km above the surface of the Earth using the ISIPOD CubeSat deployer. It was launched ‘piggyback’, using excess capacity of the launch vehicle as part of a larger satellite mission. Sensor performance was evaluated against measurements collected on the ground. After the end of the SME-SAT project, a series of sensors manufactured in Europe is expected to be at the top of the technology readiness level scale.


CubeSat, SMEs, space technology, system integrators, nanosatellite, SME-SAT, control systems

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