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2020-2021 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 2020-2021 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

Project Specifications

The challenge is to design 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.

A high-level lunar nanosatellite mission must be designed in conjunction with the satellite design and must be submitted with the CDR report. The objective is to state what orbit the satellite should be injected into to maximise revisit times of historic lunar sites/landmarks, for example the Apollo, Luna and Chang’e lander modules. A list of these locations will be added during the CDR phase. Teams will be able to utilise Open Cosmos’ OpenApp software for this, or a different software of their choosing, which will be made available mid-late February 2021 to assist in design and analysis of the lunar mission.

Competition Day

The challenge day consists of two components; an attempt to complete the objectives inside a mystery room and a 10-15 minutes presentation.

 Teams shall be tested inside a mystery room that shall simulate a lunar environment. The satellite will be suspended in the centre of the mystery room by a piece of string/rope, allowing for rotation in one axis. Teams will then have 30 minutes to detect, pinpoint and identify as many different sources of information as possible, which will be spread out across the room. Additional points will be awarded if teams are able to acquire details of the sources/objects of interest or are able to decode a message being transmitted from the different sources. Listed below are the final list of sources that will be present on the day that teams should prepare for.

  1. Objects of interest
  2. Thermal sources of ranging temperatures (-25°C to 100°C)
  3. Light sources of ranging wavelength and intensity (visual and infrared range)
  4. Electromagnetic signals (MHz frequency range)

Additionally, teams can include considerations in their design for various realistic lunar environments, like factoring in for the thermal fatigue of the components caused due to the variation in temperature between the light and dark side of the Moon.

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 2020 through October 2021, with the award made formal at the UKSEDS annual conference in March 2022.

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.


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Competition Winners

The CranSEDS team from Cranfield University took first place in this year’s competition, with second place going to the StrathAIS team from the University of Strathclyde, and third place going to the SatXTeam from the University of Leicester.

Click here to learn more about the winners.