Vega Launches Shoebox-Sized Space Labs for Scientific Research

Europe’s Vega launch tonight carries twin miniaturized laboratories known as CubeSats, which aim to demonstrate disruptive and state-of-the-art space technologies. The CubeSat Carrier (CSC) satellites, ∑yndeo-1 and ∑yndeo-2, are supported by the European Commission and carry seven test payloads, including an innovative plasma jet pack and an ultra-sensitive magnetic instrument. These payloads are part of the In-Orbit Demonstration/In-Orbit Validation program, managed by the European Space Agency (ESA), which aims to boost the competitiveness of Europe’s space sector.

The ∑yndeo CubeSats are unique because they represent an aggregation of separate payloads being flown together. This poses an engineering challenge as all these demanding payloads must work well in orbit alongside each other. The CubeSats were custom-built for this program by ISISPACE in the Netherlands, using their existing 6-unit platforms with ample flight heritage. The biggest challenge was accommodating all the complex payloads in such small spaces and ensuring proper power and data interfaces, electromagnetic compatibility, and field of view.

The experiments on ∑yndeo-1 include a miniature Star Tracker for Nanosatellites, a CubeSat attitude determination and control system, a CubeSat-tailored star tracker, and a radiation effects payload. On ∑yndeo-2, there is a Spacepix Radiation Monitor, a low-frequency noise characterization payload, and a plasma jet pack based on novel vacuum arc physics for electric propulsion.

These CubeSat missions have implications for future space endeavors such as ESA’s Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA), designed for gravitational wave detection. LISA will require precise positioning and control of its spacecraft, and some aspects of this technology were demonstrated by the LISA Pathfinder mission in 2015. The CubeSats will contribute to advancing the control technology needed for LISA’s success.

During the Vega launch, the CubeSats will be safeguarded by the Quadpack Type2.XL deployer system provided by ISISPACE. This system will release the CubeSats from the Vega upper stage to attain their target orbits. ISISPACE will also operate the satellites from its ground station in Delft, with a commercial ground station service as backup.

In addition to the ∑yndeo CubeSats, the IOD/IOV Program is also working on the Cassini mission, which consists of a trio of CubeSats for additional payload testing in orbit.

This launch marks a milestone for the In-Orbit Demonstration/In-Orbit Validation program and sets the stage for future launches and advancements in space technology. The successful demonstration of these disruptive technologies will enhance Europe’s competitiveness in the space sector and pave the way for further exploration and innovation.