A flying squirrel Flying Squirrels

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Nimble nanosats!

The Flying Squirrels team is composed of PhD and MSc students from ISAE SUPAERO/ONERA (France). It was selected by ESA (European Space Agency) for the Fly Your Thesis! 2017 program to carry out an experiment in a parabolic flight campaign. This experiment consists in testing an innovative system to control the attitude (orientation in space) of small satellites (nanosatellites). The attitude control system is composed of a new configuration of control moment gyro actuators (see video below) and of a new steering law to control nanosatellites, adapted for future space missions.

The Fly Your Thesis! programme

ESA Education - Fly Your Thesis!

The European Space Agency (ESA) Education Programme has the objective to inspire and motivate young people to enhance their literacy and competence in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM disciplines), and to pursue a career in these fields, in the space domain in particular. To this end, it offers a number of exciting activities that range from training and classroom activities that use space as a teaching and learning context for school teachers and pupils, to real space projects for university students.

The Fly Your Thesis! (FYT) programme gives master and PhD candidates the opportunity to fly their scientific experiment or technological research in microgravity conditions. The experiments can be related to fluid physics, chemistry, biology, material sciences, heat transfer and astrophysics. The parabolic flight campaign takes place on the Airbus A310 Zero-G, which is operated by Novespace from Bordeaux, France. Each campaign consists of a series of three flights of 30 parabolas each. These will provide about 20s of microgravity each.

Learn more about Fly Your Thesis!

The team

Our team

Flying Squirrels team, from left to right: Antoine Brunet, Hélène Evain, Thomas Solatges and Adrien Dias Ribeiro.

Our team is composed of:

Our experiment design

The main objective of the experiment is to test a new attitude control system (system to control the orientation) for small satellites (nanosatellites). This system includes a Control Moment Gyro cluster composed of six actuators, and a new in-house steering law that controls the actuators.

Our CMG design

The nanosatellites have more and more needs for agility and accurate pointing, and Control Moment Gyro clusters have proven to be very power-efficient and have more torque capabilities than other attitude actuators for the same mass and electrical power in satellites. For micro-satellites, their use is not common because of the complexity of steering a cluster, and few technologies are available in the market. We therefore propose a new mechanical design of a CMG cluster, fitting in a nanosatellite, with equipment available in the market, and to test in microgravity the performance of the new steering law by carrying out typical maneuvers a nanosatellite may have to perform, with tests of reliability in case of actuators failures.

The Control Moment Gyro cluster contains six identical CMGs. Each CMG has two actuators: one flywheel motor will rotate the flywheel at a high constant velocity, and one gimbal motor will be controlled to provide the required gyroscopic moments.

The main controller of the nanosat is a Raspberry Pi 3 with a PCB shield holding electronic components and connections to sensors and other electronic systems such as one I2C IMU.

Planned maneuvers

During the flights, the cubesat will perform several different maneuvers to assess the performance of the CMG cluster and of its control law.

At the beginning of each parabola, one maneuver will be asked to the nanosat, and it will have to perform it during the 20 seconds of microgravity. The three types of maneuvers are:

Each maneuver will also be tested with simulated failures of one or two actuators switched-off during these parabolas.

© 2016 Antoine Brunet A310 Zero-G background picture by DLR, CC-BY 3.0