University satellite UWE-2 successfully launched09/23/2009
Initially, the satellite was scheduled to start its journey into orbit as early as in the fall of 2008. But the launch was postponed several times. Finally, everything went smoothly: Punctually at 8.16 on Wednesday, September 23, the Würzburg miniature satellite UWE-2 took off from Sriharikota Spaceport in India.
The event had been awaited with great anticipation: Early in the morning on Wednesday, some 70 visitors – from University President Axel Haase to the Space Master students – gathered in the Robotics Lab in the Hubland campus of the University of Würzburg in order to watch the launch of the Indian carrier rocket from the spaceport in Sriharikota. What they were shown via the live stream of an Indian news station made them cheer in jubilation: Punctual to the minute, the rocket took off and disappeared into the sky.
Several satellites on board
The main payload of the rocket is the earth observation satellite Oceansat-2 of the Indian Space Agency. However, there are also four so-called picosatellites onboard the rocket, which have been manufactured at the Universities of Berlin, Istanbul, Lausanne and – of course – Würzburg. The space-travelling cube, which weighs slightly less than one kilogram, is called “University of Würzburg Experimental satellite 2,” in short UWE-2.
Developed and manufactured by students
UWE-2 has been developed and implemented by a group of international students under the guidance of Professor Klaus Schilling at the Department for Computer Engineering of the University of Würzburg. The students have enrolled in the Space Master Program, a master’s course in space science and technology. In the first semester, their schedule includes lectures on space physics and on the design of space probes at the University of Würzburg. In the second semester, they continue their studies at the Space Campus of Lulea University in Kiruna, focusing on measuring instruments and electronic systems for space flight. For the second year, the students can select one of six universities in Europe to specialize in their field of interest.
Clever data processing with miniature sensors
With the help of advanced software and on the basis of various sensor data, UWE-2 has the task to determine its position and orientation as accurately as possible. The data for this is collected by a GPS receiver and derives from measurements taken by sun sensors, magnetometers and so-called inertial sensors, the latter of which record accelerating and rotational forces. “Under the condition of a total satellite weight of only one kilogram, it was a particular challenge to implement clever data processing with miniature sensors to determine the viewing direction of the satellite,” explained Schilling.
Just under an hour after launch, UWE-2 left the rocket as scheduled and started its journey around the earth. It did not take long for a receiving station in California to pick up the first signals from the satellite. “UWE-2 went up successfully and found its correct orbit,” Klaus Schilling announced with excitement. Meanwhile, UWE-2 has also passed over Würzburg on its orbital path. “The ground station of the university has received the signals, which we were able to decode,” said Klaus Schilling. Thus, it is clear: UWE-2 works; the mission is a great success. Now, the UWE-2 team can go to “operational mode” and start the scientific program.
Predecessor and successor of UWE-2
UWE-1, the predecessor of UWE-2, was launched into orbit from Plesetsk in Russia on October 27, 2005. It successfully performed space-based experiments on the internet, transmitting signals back to the Earth for about half a year.
And while UWE-1 and -2 are revolving around the Earth, the students of Klaus Schilling have long been working on successor project UWE-3. “We have been invited to participate with UWE-3 in the first launch of the European Vega rocket,” says Schilling. Although launch is planned for December 2009, currently available information leads Schilling to believe that it will be postponed to the year 2010.
Unlike its predecessors, UWE-3 is expected to be able to control its position in space actively. To enable the satellite to do this, there is still much work left for its designers, the Space Master students and the first participants in the Aeronautics Computer Science program. This course will be offered for the first time by the University of Würzburg in the coming winter semester; registration remains open until the middle of October.
Prof. Dr. Klaus Schilling, telephone: +49 (0)160 45 17 580, e-mail: email@example.com