The launch, funded by the Institute of Space Studies of Catalonia (IEEC), took place at 5:30 a.m. from the Sriharikota space base (India)
- The 3Cat-1 is a small satellite developed at the NanoSat Lab of the Polytechnic University of Catalonia (UPC).
- Aboard the PSLV-C43 Indian rocket, the satellite has seamlessly acquired its nominal orbit of 504 kilometers in height.
- The 3Cat-1 tracking station is located at the Astronomical Observatory of Montsec.
- The success of the launch comes after four attempts in recent years.
The 3Cat-1 nanosatellite, developed at the Payload and Small Satellite Laboratory (NanoSat Lab) at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia (UPC) by a team of students, has successfully entered orbit this morning (Catalan time). The launch, financed entirely by the Institute of Space Studies of Catalonia (IEEC), has been carried out with the rocket PSLV-C43, which has been launched from the Satish Dhawan Space Center in Sriharikota (India).
After performing the tasks to reach orbit, the satellite will finally be ready to begin the different experiments focused on Earth observation and the validation of space technologies. The monitoring of 3Cat-1 will be carried out by members of the same NanoSat Lab from the communications station, located at the Astronomical Observatory of Montsec (Sant Esteve de la Sarga, Lleida), a facility of the Catalonian Government and managed by IEEC.
One of the new technologies that the 3Cat-1 must test is a graphene transistor developed by the Stockholm Royal Institute of Technology (KTH, Sweden). The transistors are components made from silicon and are found in most commonly used electronic devices. The experiment within 3Cat-1 will be used to check the behaviour of graphene in the aggressive space conditions.
The effect of highly charged energy particles will also be analyzed through a commercial Geiger counter, an instrument that measures radioactive particles and ionizing radiation. The same meter will be used to measure the impact of radiation on other experiments on board the nanosatellite.
Another experiment is a resonant microelectromechanical system that will be used to measure, for the first time in situ, how monoatomic oxygen attacks an interesting polymer in electronic applications. This experiment is important as monoatomic oxygen is very reactive and present in low-altitude orbits. Another test on board the nanosatellite will be a new system of environmental energy collection created at the NanoSat Lab and a new technology developed to transmit energy to space wirelessly. The sixth load on board is a camera that is able to take photos of the Earth from space.
A Catalan dynasty
Despite being the second to reach space (3Cat-2 was launched on August 15, 2018), 3Cat-1 is the first of a series of small experimental satellites, the 3Cat, which follow the CubeSat standard. CubeSat nanosatellites are small volume devices (combinations of cubes about 10 centimeters wide) weighing between one and ten kilograms. Thanks to the use of standardized commercial components, they can be developed for groups of university students and researchers. The ambitious project to design, manufacture and test this CubeSats series has been carried out over the past seven years at the NanoSat Lab, a laboratory backed by the Barcelona School of Telecommunications Engineering (ETSETB) of the UPC with the support of the IEEC.
According to Adriano Camps, professor of the Department of Signal Theory and Communications and one of the managers at NanoSat Lab, “designing, building and testing CubeSats at the NanoSat Lab has been a unique and very enriching experience. I am very pleased to have helped to train and mature dozens of engineers, integrating virtually all Telecommunications and Electronics subjects into a cubic decimeter. ” Ignasi Ribas, director of the IEEC, explained that “at the IEEC, we have been committed to the world of nanosatellites for years, as we believe it is an expanding area and that it calls for a democratisation of access to space.”
Fourth time lucky
The final launch of 3Cat-1 has been accomplished four and a half years after the scheduled date. In April 2014, everything was ready for take off from Russia, aboard a Dneppr rocket. Unfortunately, the war between Russia and Ukraine, which had begun the same month, consequently led to the cancellation of all the planned launches for that rocket. Just over a year later, the small UPC satellite was waiting impatiently for another chance to get into orbit, this time aboard a Falcon 9 rocket from the SpaceX company. The launch was supposed to take place in July of 2015, but a few weeks before a Falcon 9 exploded in flight. This accident forced 3Cat-1 to wait for a new opportunity. Shortly after, a second explosion of Falcon 9 postponed, for the third time, the planned release date, and this time indefinitely.
Over the last two years the team has been searching for an alternative, which in the end has turned out to be the PSLV-C43 Indian rocket, and finally launched this morning with 3Cat-1 on board. So it´s fourth time lucky! Ignasi Ribas is delighted that CubeSat has finally been able to launch, “it has been a success, especially after the uncertainty and mishaps experienced in recent years.” Adriano Camps added that “we are very pleased that the launch has gone well. Now it’s time to wait and see if the signals are received correctly, and that everything is nominal”.
The NanoSat Lab of the UPC is a pioneering laboratory in the development and experimentation of small satellites dedicated to teaching, research and qualification of technologies and applications for space travel. It is a unique facility in Europe that integrates in a single location, clean of contamination, instrumentation to verify components and space technology. One of the pillars of the laboratory, the research group on Remote Sensing, Antennas, Microwaves and Superconductivity (CommSensLab), of which Adriano Camps is the scientific coordinator, has the distinction of María de Maeztu’, granted by the Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness as part of the program of Centres of Excellence, to carry out, among others, pioneering initiatives in space, such as the development of 3Cat.
One of the nanosatellites developed at the NanoSat Lab was the 3Cat-2, the first designed and manufactured in Catalonia, which was put into orbit on August 15, 2016. It was launched with three experiments on board to demonstrate the feasibility of various technologies linked to satellite navigation systems for remote sensing applications, as well as to test instrumentation for a future mission of the European Space Agency (ESA).