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2022-2023 Satellite Design Competition: Nanosatellites

Space Sustainability is a topic that has often been neglected throughout the decades of space development. This meant that defunct satellites were simply left to drift in space until they eventually fell back to Earth. However, this may take centuries. The 1958 Vanguard probe is expected to remain in orbit for 240 years, for example. Because of these concerns, much effort has gone into cataloging the number of debris objects in geostationary (GEO) and low-earth (LEO) orbits.

The 2022-2023 Satellite Design Competition invites students to design, construct and operate a nanosatellite payload system with the aim of developing a detection system for identifying piece(s) of space debris. Students shall create a payload concept, trade off performance parameters and pass through a rigorous review process with panels of experts within the space industry. The competition aims to reach out to students from multiple scientific fields, including, but not limited to, aerospace engineers, computer science engineers, electrical engineers, mechanical engineers and physicists.

The competition aims to:

  • Challenge students to perform a complex, systems engineering task for the development of a payload to meet 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
  • Provide students with support and advice from leading industry experts

Project Specifications

The challenge of this year’s competition was to design a 3U CubeSat that can detect and conduct in-situ testing on space debris that are millimeters in size. The aim of these tests was to gather any data that may prove relevant to spacecraft operators. The competition is separated into two main phases: a research & design phase and a build & test phase. Teams had to submit a Preliminary Design Review, followed by a Critical Design Review.

Mystery Room
The mystery room is a challenge on a final competition day that is set to teams in order to test the functionality of their CubeSat design. The exact setup on the day is left relatively unknown in order to keep it as challenging as possible, although requirements are set and given to the teams.

The mystery room will consist of two components: an attempt to complete the objectives inside a mystery room and a 10-15 minute presentation. Teams will be tested inside a mystery room that shall simulate the different phases of the mission, from pre-launch to end of life. The objectives will be split into three parts, which are as follows:

  1. Pre-launch
    This will involve a structural testing of the CubeSat to determine if it is able to survive the launch load. This will be done in the form of vibration testing.
  2. In-orbit state of health check of subsystems
    These tests will check whether the subsystems of the CubeSat are operational ‘post-launch.’ It will involve testing of the TT&C system, and that data is able to be sent to and from the CubeSat remotely. It will also check the CubeSat’s power subsystem and confirm that any components that draw current are operational. A separate AOCS test will be included in the TRR submission, as there is unlikely to be enough time on the competition day to conduct this test. This is an optional test but additional marks will be awarded during the TRR stage for successful demonstration of an AOCS subsystem.
  3. Science experimentation
    These tests will focus on the main aim of the mission: the scientific data collection. This will be done through two tests:
    1. Track the rate of debris objects passing in the vicinity of the cubesat.
    2. Determine characteristics of the debris, such as size, the number of pieces and anything else relevant that could be determined such as the rate of rotation. This will mimic the scientific experimentations that would be done on the debris in a real mission, but is simplified in scope.

For a full description of the competition, including details and specifications, you can download the Competition Overview here.

With Thanks to Our Corporate Partners

Team Specifications

The competition was open to any UKSEDS member, which extends to students from UK universities, apprentices, as well as any students on Internships or those who have graduated within the last 3 years. It has been designed to be carried out as a group project towards a degree, or by a UKSEDS branch team and there was a limit of 15 team members per team.

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.

Winning Teams

Learn more about the top 3 teams in this year’s competition:

CranSEDS have had consistent success in the Satellite Design Competition for many years, and have won the competition on a number of occasions. This year the team from CranSEDS, called Team Condor, again showcased their brilliant teamwork and dedication. Although they didn’t clinch the title of Best Satellite this year, their CubeSat design was remarkably well developed, and is one of the best we have seen in the competition's history. The team’s ingenuity and dedication were underscored by their well-deserved win of the Best Critical Design Review (CDR) award, a testament to the exceptional quality of their design work. CranSEDS, through Team Condor, not only upheld their legacy of excellence but also pushed the boundaries of satellite design, leaving a lasting impression on the competition and providing a testament to what a group of university students are capable of. Read their report.

The University of Nottingham’s satellite design team stood out in what was a fiercely competitive year in the Satellite Design Competition. Their remarkable work was highlighted by their excellent win of the ‘Best Presentation’ award, a testament to their ability to convey complex design choices with real clarity. What really impressed us at UKSEDS the most about the University of Nottingham team was their diverse range of students that competed, and how committed the team were to enhancing the skills of younger students in their team even if it could have slowed the design process. This is what UKSEDS is all about and we are delighted that the competition could be used in this way. Their mentor from industry, Tim Cole, also spoke very highly of the team, and was impressed with the team’s leadership and how dedicated they were to the competition. Read their report.

In their first appearance at the Satellite Design Competition, the team from the University of Surrey proved themselves to be an exceptionally well organised and dedicated team. We were consistently impressed at UKSEDS by the team throughout the competition during our meetings, and we knew that the team was going to be incredibly competitive on the competition day. This proved to be the case as they took home the trophy for Best Satellite. Their debut performance was nothing short of extraordinary, showcasing not only their technical prowess but also their brilliant team ethic. They often showed how innovative they were, as proved by their operational interface that they developed to control their satellite inside our mystery room challenge. This is not something we have seen before in the SDC and we were all incredibly impressed by their ingenuity. We hope that we can welcome a team from the University of Surrey next year to defend their crown as having the Best Satellite! Read their report.