The European Space Agency ESA announced today that it has funded 12 new experiments to fly on board its OPS-SAT flying laboratory cubesat.
OPS-SAT: A Swiss Army Knife in Orbit
ESA’s OPS-SAT (short for Operations Satellite) is a Swiss army knife in orbit. The 30-cm 3U CubeSat packs a powerful onboard computer and an array of instruments that make it the ideal laboratory for testing innovative new technologies in space.
OPS-SAT is a CubeSat that is intended to demonstrate improvements in mission control capabilities that will arise when satellites can fly more powerful on-board computers. The mission has the objective to break the cycle of “has never flown, will never fly” in the area of satellite control. It was the first CubeSat operated directly by ESA.
The satellite has an experimental computer that is ten times more powerful than traditional ESA on-board computers. This on-board computer provides an experimental platform to run software experiments on-board. One innovative concept is the deployment of space software in the form of apps. This concept is enabled by the NanoSat MO Framework (NMF) and allows Apps to be uploaded to the spacecraft and then started on-board. This is a new concept that ESA has successfully demonstrated in space.
OPS-SAT was launched on 18 December 2019.
ESA Discovery Programme
Thanks to the ESA Discovery programme, 12 new experiments will be doing just that, as they develop software, concepts and protocols that push the robust CubeSat to its limits and that could one day be essential parts of future spacecraft missions.
The OPS-SAT Space Lab is ESA’s only spacecraft open to innovation for anyone in Europe and enables new and exciting ideas to be tested live in space without the risk of damaging a multi-million-Euro satellite. Last summer, ESA’s Discovery programme issued a call for ideas for European industry and academia to apply to win funding and fly their experiments on a flight computer more powerful than any ESA has launched before.
“We were overwhelmed by the quality of the proposals we received,” says OPS-SAT spacecraft manager David Evans. “Our first task was to assess them on their innovativeness, with many more than we expected passing with flying colours. That made it really tricky to narrow them down.”
12 New experiments funded
55 proposals in total were submitted through ESA’s Open Space Innovation Platform (OSIP). 12 have now been awarded funding. The experiment ideas covered a wide range of ESA’s activities: telecommunications, spacecraft operations, Earth observation, technology development and more, to the excitement of many across ESA.
“I am really impressed by the diversity of ideas people came up with for experiments that could be flown on OPS-SAT,” adds David. “Particularly those using artificial intelligence. AI is a broad term for an effectively infinite toolbox, and it was great to see concrete applications using a variety of tools from across the field. It’s clear to me that when we give academia and industry access to such a powerful processor on a satellite, there is no end to the creative things they’ll think to do with it.”
The Open Space Innovation Platform
OSIP provides a flexible platform that helps ESA discover novel ideas and invest in unconventional activities to support the advancement of the European space industry. The platform brings together exciting ideas from companies and institutions in Europe with ESA experts like David Evans to take them to the next level.
“I was really impressed with how OSIP helped us reach new audiences and increase the awareness of OPS-SAT in academic and industrial communities in Europe,” says David. “As a result, we have a good number of new faces who are running their first experiments on OPS-SAT under this campaign. We are very excited to see how they’ll approach it.”
Read the full story on the ESA Discovery website here.