The first Belgian CubeSat, OUFTI-1 (Orbital Utility For Telecommunication Innovations), has just been assembled at the Liege Space Centre (CSL-ULg). The flight model is now ready to move to the stage of intensive tests required by ESA (European Space Agency) prior to being sent into orbit, in principle at the start of 2015.
OUFTI-1 is a ‘first’ for Belgium on several grounds. It is the first satellite registered in Belgium. It is the first satellite entirely designed and built in Belgium under Belgian management. It is also the first complete satellite assembled within the CSL-ULg. In addition, it is the first satellite to be sent into space as a D-STAR technology relay, the cutting edge for the world’s amateur radio community.
OUFTI-1 is first and foremost an educational project which began in the Faculty of Applied Sciences and which has offered around fifty ULg (and ‘Hautes Ecoles’*) engineering students the opportunity of participating in the design and all the development stages of the CubeSat, under the supervision of academic and scientific staff. The ‘grey matter’ of OUFTI-1 can largely be found in around fifty master dissertations written by engineering students.
Last July, ESA selected the OUFTI-1 project from a range of CubeSat projects as part of its educational programme Fly Your Satellite! (FYS). In order to meet the ESA schedule, the OUFTI-1 team worked flat out to produce in record time the voluminous documentation required, including an ultra-detailed procedure of all the assembly phases of the flight model. ‘Regardless of whether it is a large satellite or a small one like a CubeSat, the requirements are identical’, explains Prof. Jacques Verly (Laboratory for Signal and Image Exploitation – INTELSIG, University of Liège), the initiator of the OUFTI-1 project at ULg.
On 6 November, the OUFTI-1 flight model passed the Test Readiness Review (TRR) opening the way for the tests in ambient conditions at the CSL-ULg. This first TRR will be followed by a second, which will then open the door to test campaigns in space conditions at the ESTEC (European Space Research & Technology Centre) in Noordwijk (The Netherlands).
‘According to the ESA schedule, we hope OUFTI-1 will be launched alongside other European CubeSats, in a six month window around 1 January 2015, but we don’t yet know which launcher will be selected by ESA’, stresses Prof. Gaëtan Kerschen (Space Structures and Systems Laboratory, University of Liège), the other academic supervisor for the project.
‘OUFTI-1 perfectly epitomises the strategic philosophy of the ESA’s FYS programme. The explicit aim of this European programme, initiated last spring, is to ensure continuity of human resources in terms of young engineers trained in space techniques. From its very inception in September 2007, OUFTI-1 has been educational in nature. It was thus the ideal candidate for the new FYS programme, all the more so because it had arrived at an advanced stage of technological maturity’, notes Prof. Verly.
‘CubeSats are increasingly recognised as having a new and decisive role to play in the realisation of scientific and technical experiments in space and their capacities are complementary to those of conventional large satellites. Because OUFTI-1 is the first Belgian nanosatellite, ULg has played a pioneering role in terms of getting ready for using this technology for future scientific missions in space’, adds Prof. Verly.
‘This also confirms Wallonia’s position in the space industry and the high quality of our academic curriculum for aerospace, computer science, electronics, and other key disciplines for developing space vehicles. One should point out that ULg is the only university in French-speaking Belgium that runs a engineering Masters course in Aerospace and Space Science’, adds Prof. Kerschen.
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