Saturday, 15 June 2019

For MSP engineers, the definition of a successful space mission is simple: it’s all about receiving that one signal (“ping”) from ACRUX-1 in orbit.

Receiving that ping from ACRUX-1 may seem like a modest mission goal, but the truth is far from it.

That ping would mean ACRUX-1 has not only turned on in space, but has also communicated data back to us at our ground station in Greater Melbourne.

In other words, it demonstrates that the satellite system built by our engineers actually works in space.

Ideally MSP engineers would like ACRUX-1 to continue to work for a week or more — then they’ll know that the systems are pretty sound and operating effectively.

This would be the true definition of mission success.

The location of MSP’s ground station was chosen to avoid random noise & interference. Not long after set-up (left), our telecomms team caught a glimpse of a double-rainbow (right) encompassing our ground station. (Could this be a sign?) Image credits: Gabi Abrahams, MSP.

With that being said the team is well aware that in space, not everything goes to plan. This is especially true for CubeSats.

Historically speaking, mission success rates for CubeSats have been low, averaging about 45-77% between academia and industry respectively. Back in 2017 workshops in the U.S. began exploring ways to improve upon mission success rates for CubeSat developers across academia, industry and government-funded research centers.

So our team has determined that the following scenarios embody ACRUX-1’s mission goals and successes in space:

Getting ACRUX-1 designed, built and secured on an overseas launch demonstrates a significant measure of mission success for MSP. Image credit: Kaleb Foster, MSP.

  • Partial success: Built a Flight-Ready satellite that works on the benchtop and has passed all the necessary testing to be launched
  • Full success: Satellite turns on in orbit and a ping is successfully transmitted to the ground (so, not just for ACRUX-1 to be working, but for the MSP ground station to work as well). The ping doesn’t have to contain every piece of information — just receiving a bit of it would be enough
  • Stretch goal/extended success: ACRUX-1 operates properly for at least 1-2 weeks and health data for all subsystems is transmitted to the ground (i.e. the ping contains everything needed for full mission success)

At the end of the day, it’s all about the capability demonstration for ACRUX-1. A few signals from our satellite demonstrates that we have a capable, functioning system.

For MSP as a whole, getting ACRUX-1 designed, built and off the ground even goes beyond being a technical feat. We consider much of what we’ve already accomplished leading up to the launch as a significant part of our overarching mission success.

When ACRUX-1 does launch at last, it will be a demonstration of our functioning grit and capabilities as a volunteer organisation — a journey that has required teamwork, passion, and perseverance (and a lot of coffee).

 

Written by Renae Kiely
Edited by Megan Toomey


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