Skip to Main Content

2019-2020 Satellite Design Competition: Nanosatellites

New Space is based on a philosophy of creating less expensive satellites in shorter periods of time, thanks to falling costs and technological developments of miniaturisation spacecraft equipment. Nanosatellites have demonstrated that cheaper, off-the-shelf technology still allows for large amounts of scientific return, while maintaining good quality results. Nanosatellites have been a key contributor to the commercialisation of space, where forecasts predict that by 2022, up to 75% of all nanosatellites are forecasted to be in orbit for commercial reasons.

The 2019-2020 Satellite Design Competition invited students to design, construct and operate a nanosatellite payload system with the objective to acquire as much information from an analogue lunar nanosatellite mission. Students created a payload concept, trading off performance parameters, and passed through a rigorous review process with panels of experts within the space industry. The competition aimed to reach out to students from multiple scientific fields, including, but not limited to, electrical engineers, mechanical engineers and computer science engineers.

The competition aimed to:

  • Challenge students to perform a complex, systems engineering task of the development of a payload to a set of real space mission requirements
  • Gain exposure and experience of the typical design processes and protocols in industry projects, including multiple project reviews
  • Enable students to apply taught technical skills and learn new ones relevant to a job in the space industry in an applicable project environment
  • Provide students with an opportunity to develop and practice other important and transferable skills, such as teamwork, leadership and project management

The Impact of COVID19

The original plan for the competition involved an exciting second stage: a build phase, where competing teams would have the opportunity to design and construct a nanosatellite payload, thanks to a new collaboration with Open Cosmos! The nanosatellite payload was to be integrated on-board Open Cosmos’ 3U beeKit platform and teams would be scored over a series of tasks on a challenge day at the Harwell Science, Technology and Innovation Campus, Oxfordshire next summer. Unfortunately, COVID19 forced Open Cosmos to close its facility to all but essential personnel. The competition therefore ended with the judging of Critical Design Review reports submitted by the teams that were able to complete their projects despite the lockdowns of the global pandemic. 


Project Specifications

The challenge is to design a payload system for a 3U cubesat that can detect and analyse different sources of data signatures from a simulated lunar environment. The competition is separated into two main phases: a research & design phase and a build & test phase. The research & design phase ends when teams submit their Critical Design Review (CDR) report to their reviewers. Once all CDR reports have been reviewed and marked, the 5 best teams will be selected to progress to the build & test phase, where they will receive OC’s beeKit to integrate to their payload.

Competition Tasks

  1. Concept and Requirements: In this task, teams will create an initial concept for their satellite payload and mission design. Teams will work using this document to ensure all requirements are met. This stage is expected to last 1 - 1.5 months and concludes with the Preliminary Design Review. At this stage, teams will submit their PDR documentation. Written feedback will be provided to teams by the review panel.
  2. Detailed Design: In this task, teams will flesh out the preliminary design from the previous stage, taking into account any new design decisions. Teams should consider any feedback received on the PDR and implement any recommendations. The main goals of this stage are to finalise their mission design, the design of the satellite payload and to start functional testing of the components which are novel or involve technology unfamiliar to the team. Such components should be highlighted, and justification presented in the CDR.
  3. Build and Test: Teams will carry out the construction and test of the satellite payload as specified in the preliminary and detailed design. Teams should execute the test plan defined in the PDR (with appropriate modifications for design changes since that time) and provide a summary of how each component was tested prior to the challenge day.

The submissions will be judged first on the quality, depth and rigor of the work presented and secondly by the breadth of the work in terms of topics covered.

To accommodate the academic year in the UK, the competition takes place from November 2019 through October 2020, with the award made formal at the UKSEDS annual conference in March 2021.

Team Specifications

Teams must be comprised entirely of students at one university and may not have more than 15 members. Teams will be limited to one per university, and team candidacy must be submitted through that university's UKSEDS chapter. We recommend between 3 and 10 members per team, but we encourage team leadership to include as many interested chapter members as possible. Individual team members must maintain student status at the university naming the team and may only contribute to one project at a time.

Since this is a student project, SSPI and UKSEDS expect student team members to do the vast majority of the work. Mentors are assigned to assist teams with overcoming the learning curve, but should not do substantial work on the project, except when necessity dictates (driven by, e.g., proprietary software). All contributing team members should be credited on the team roster, which is submitted with the project.


← UKSEDS Competitions

With Thanks to Our Corporate Partners

Team Results

Three UKSEDS teams completed this year's project:

Cranfield University Team


Download the team's report.

Glasgow University Team


Download the team's report.

 The Open University Team

Open Cubiversaty

Download the team's report.