ISRO’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) has just deployed 31 satellites in orbit after a 23 minute flight. This was the fortieth launch of the PSLV, one of the most reliable launch vehicles in the world, which has earned it the moniker of ISRO’s workhorse rocket. There were satellites from Austria, Chile, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, the United Kingdom and the United States of America. Of the three satellites that ISRO notes are from Belgium, according to the launch manifest, one was actually from China and the other two were from the United Kingdom.
Eight of the satellites are part of the QB50 project, a swarm of fifty academic satellites from different countries around the world, which is led by Belgium. The total weight of all the satellites on board was 955 kg. The 29 foreign nanosatellites have been launched as part of arrangements between Antrix, ISRO’s commercial arm and the customers. Here are the details of the satellites that the PSLV-C38 mission has deployed.
CartoSat 2 series
The main payload is the Earth observation CartoSat 2 series satellite. The satellite is similar to five earlier satellites already deployed in the CartoSat 2 series. There are panchromatic and multispectral cameras on board which will be used to observe the Earth from a polar sun synchronous orbit at a height of 505 kilometers. The orbit is similar to the orbit of the CartoSat-2D, which was launched in the PSLV-C37 mission with 104 satellites on board. The orbit will allow the CartoSat-2 series to image the Earth when the sun is directly overhead, allowing for clear lighting conditions with minimal shadows.
The imaging instruments on board are amongst the most advanced used by Indian satellites, and are capable of imaging the Earth in sub-meter resolutions. The images will be used for a number of Land Information System (LIS) and Geographic Information System (GIS) applications. The satellite will be used for cartographic applications, creating land use maps, regulation of coastal land use, monitoring roads, and keeping track of water distribution. The main payload alone weighs 712 kg. There are reaction wheels, magnetic torquers and Hydrazine thrusters for controlling the satellite. The planned mission duration for the satellite is five years.
NIUSAT MARK I
The other Indian satellite on board is an academic institute satellite from Noorul Islam University. The satellite weighs 15 kg, with two optical payloads on board. There is an RGB multispectral camera that can capture images in a 30-meter resolution and a Short-wave Infrared camera with a resolution of 120 meters. The images captured by the satellite will be used for disaster support operations, as well as monitoring agricultural crops in the Kanya Kumari district.
The university has established a dedicated command and control center for telemetry and telecommand operations (downloading data and uploading commands). Their command center is equipped with a very high frequency / ultra high frequency antenna for the command and control operations and an S-Band antenna for data reception. The Satellite structure, Electrical Power System, On Board Computer, Telemetry and Tele Command Transponder were all developed by the NIUSAT team. ISRO and private industries also participated in the process of realising the satellite. The satellite is meant to contribute to the welfare of the nation, and allow the university to acquire the know-how for developing satellites.
The PEGASUS AT03 is a nanosatellite from from the University of Applied Sciences in Wiener Neustadt, Austria, and is a part of a constellation of 36 satellites. The nanosatellite is based on the popular CubeSat standard and has the subsystems arranged in layers. The main instrument on board is the multi Needle Langmuir probe system, which will be used to measure the density and temperatures of electrons in the thermosphere, one of the outermost layers of the atmosphere. The measurements will allow scientists to get a clear picture of the plasma conditions in the thermosphere, and better understand the process that determines the weather on Earth.
One of the unique aspects of the PEGASUS swarm is that the side panels in the satellite are printed circuit boards and provide additional functions apart from providing support. The various sub systems in the satellite are connected by the side panels, allowing the design team to avoid using wires. The side panels also have magneto torquers to control the alignment of the satellite. The on board computer is based on the 32-bit ARM Cortex-M3 processor, and the satellite has an SD card slot. The PEGASUS uses a Pulsed Plasma Thruster for propulsion.
The QB50 project is an international network of nanosatellites from various universities around the world. The launches of the satellites are distributed between India’s PSLV and the Atlas V, operated by the United Launch Alliance, a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed-Martin. The PSLV is taking up, among others, the VZLUSAT-1, the QB50-DE04, the Lituanica Sat-02 and the URSA MAIOR from the QB50 constellation with the PSLV-C38 launch.
The QB50 project seems to have assigned a misleading country code for the BE06 satellite, as the CubeSat is listed as being named the NUDTSAT, from the National Institute of Defense Technology, in China. The designation for the satellite could be QB50-CN06. The CubeSat will be used for detecting ions and neutral particles in the upper atmosphere and is also equipped with space imaging systems.
The Inflatesail is from the Surrey Space Center, in the United Kingdom. The Inflatesail is a technology demonstration satellite to check the viability of a dragsail to safely deorbit a satellite. There is a lot of debris and junk in space, which almost forms a ring around the planet. These leftovers from previous missions are a hazard to current spacecraft, satellites and space stations in orbit, and can lead to disastrous collisions. On the Inflatesail, a dragsail will be deployed using an inflatable boom, and will be controlled by a motor. The technology has the potential to significantly reduce the amount of debris in low Earth orbit.
The UCLSat is also a part of the QB50 project from the University College London and has an Indian connection. Parts of the satellite were developed by Dhiren Kataria, an intern at the University College of London who also worked on the Pratham satellite, which went up on the PSLV-C35 mission. Like the CN06, the UCLSAT will detect ions and neutral particles in the upper atmosphere.
The Satellite of the University of Chile for Aerospace Investigation (SUCHAI) is for educational and scientific purposes. The main purpose of the satellite is to demonstrate the capabilities of designing, building and operating the satellite. Like the PEGASUS, the SUCHAI is also equipped with a Langmuir probe to study the variation of electron density in the atmosphere. The satellite will also study the effect of space weather on critical electrical systems in satellites. The SUCHAI is equipped with a camera and GPS.
The VZLUSAT-1 is a nanosatellite for atmospheric research from the Czech Republic. There is a radiation-hardened composite for housing the electronics. The aging process of the material will be verified over the course of the mission. The satellite will demonstrate a new concept for a miniaturised x-ray telescope. Such a telescope can potentially be used to monitor terrestrial gamma ray flashes, and space weather such as solar flares. The other main instrument on board is the FIPEX, ϕ-(Phi=Flux)-Probe-Experiment. The experiment will measure atomic oxygen in the atmosphere to validate conventional weather models. The communications systems on the satellite was tested by driving it around in a car.
The Aalto-1 is a satellite developed by more than 80 students from the Aalto University in Finland. The satellite is a technology demonstration mission, and is equipped with a Fabry-Pérot spectrometer. A RADMON radiation detector will monitor the low Earth orbit for electrons and protons, and will be used to map particle radiation. Finally, there is a plasma brake that will be used to deorbit the satellite. From Finnish, the name translates to a plasma hammer for testing a solar wind turbine, according to Google.
The Robusta-1B is an academic satellite that is an upgrade of the Robusta-1A. The instruments on board are improved versions of the instruments on the Robusta-1A and builds on the learnings from the first mission. The main purpose of the satellite is to study the effects of space radiation on critical electrical components in satellites. A battery anomaly in the original satellite has been corrected for this mission.
The satellite is also known as the Compass-2 and is a nanosatellite from Germany. One of the payloads of the satellite is an expandable panel of innovative thin film solar cells. The deployment of the solar panel will be tested. The panels will be observed under space conditions. In the end, the main payload on the satellite is a dragsail.
The URSA MAIOR, named after the constellation commonly known as the Great Bear is a representative satellite in this mission, and part of the QB50 project. The URSA MAIOR is an Italian satellite from the University of Rome. Like the Chilean SUCHAI and the Austrian PEGASUS, one of the scientific payloads on board is the a Langmuir probe. The satellite is also equipped with a Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems micro thruster experiment. Like the English Inflatesail and the German Compass-2, the URSA MAIOR deployable dragsail to safely de-orbit the satellite.
The Max Valier satellite is named after an Austrian rocketeer. The satellite has been developed by teams in Germany and Italy. The satellite is an academic satellite. The main payload on the satellite is a miniaturised X-Ray telescope for mapping the universe. The other payload on the satellite is a maritime Automatic Identification System (AIS). The system allows ships to avoid collisions. The data from the satellite will be beamed down to the Earth using amateur radio frequencies.
The Venta-1 is an academic nanosatellite from the Ventspils University College in Latvia, built in collaboration with the City University of Applied Sciences in Bremen, Germany. Like the Max Valier satellite, the Venta-1 will have an AIS. The telemetry and telecommand operations will be carried out by a dedicated ground station at Ventspils University College. The Venta-1 is also an Earth observation satellite, and has a low resolution camera for imaging the planet.
The LituanicaSat is an academic nanosatellite by the Vilnius University in Lithuania. The satellite will demonstrate the ecologic chemical propulsion (EPSSS), which are small but powerful thrusters. If successfully demonstrated, the system can potentially be commercialised. The satellite will take measurements and observe the constituents of the upper atmosphere. One of the interesting experiments the satellite will conduct is to test the uplink and downlink capabilities between CubeSats and remotely piloted aircraft systems. The LituanicaSat-2 has a FIPEX, like the Czech VZLUSAT.
The 3 diamonds are nanosatellites by Sky and Space Global. This will be the first demonstration of the capabilities of a company that wants to allow anyone, anywhere on the planet to communicate at any time. The Australian based company eventually hopes to deploy hundreds of satellites in orbit to support these capabilities. The organisation aims to use the satellites to be useful for remote sensing, IOT networks, communications, defence and science.
The D-Sat does not use a dragsail to demonstrate a scalable system to safely deorbit a satellite. The US based company is called D-Orbit. The system used is a miniaturised rocket that ensures that the satellite will come back to Earth. While in space though, the satellite has a scientific payload to analyse the atmosphere. The D-Sat is also equipped to track orbital debris, and will demonstrate a forecasting and warning system to prevent aircraft from being affected by falling space debris.
The CE-Sat 1 is from Japan, and is essentially a DSLR morphed into a satellite. The CE stands for Canon Electronics, and Canon’s space program is the Space Technology Laboratory. The CE-Sat 1 is a remote sensing satellite. The satellite is meant to demonstrate the systems and improve image processing and analysis software.
The skCUBE is a Slovakian technology demonstration satellite. There are two versions of every system on board for redundancy. The main scientific sensor on board is for measuring very low frequency (VLF) electromagnetic radiation. One of the problems that the satellite is trying to solve is to accurately measure these VLF radiations, and avoid the disruptions in the instruments caused by the same VLF radiations.
The CICERO-6 is a weather monitoring satellite from GeoOptics. As the number indicates, this is the sixth weather monitoring software launched by the company. GeoOptics has committed to making all data gathered by its constellation of satellites for any research use worldwide. As such the CICERO-6 is a technology demonstration mission of a GPS radio occultation sensor that will allow monitoring of global weather with greater accuracy.
Tyvak is a nano and micro satellite solutions company that specialises in commercialising capabilities of small satellites. The Tyvak-53b is a technology demonstration satellite, that will test out a deorbital technology. The Tyvak-53b is a satellite from the US, along with the Cicero and the 8 Lemurs.
The rest are all Lemur-2 satellites from Spire Global. This will be the second batch of eight Lemur-2 satellites launched by ISRO this year, the PSLV-C37 mission inserted the same number of Lemurs into orbit. Before that, Lemur satellites have been launched by Cygnus, Antares, Atlas, Dnepr and from the International Space Station. These satellites specialise in AIS systems. The data is used by insurance companies, safety passage of ships, monitoring illegal fishing and to combat piracy.
ISRO had two successful launches in June, the first demonstration flight of the GSLV MKIIIwith the indigenous cryogenic upper stage engine and the PSLV-C38 mission with 31 satellites on board. However, ISRO is not done for the month of June. On 28 June, the GSAT-17 will be launched along with the Hellas Sat 3-Inmarsat S EAN by Arianespace from French Guiana.