Flying Laptop is the name of the University of Stuttgart’s first satellite. The little satellite has been working perfectly since it went into orbit one year ago (July 14, 2017), on board a Soyuz rocket in Baikonur. It is tasked with observing the earth and testing new technologies in space. Weighing in at around 110 kilograms, the satellite is successfully carrying out its mission and fully meeting the expectations of the project team at the University of Stuttgart’s Institute of Space Systems (IRS). Over 120 student papers and more than 20 doctoral theses have contributed to the success of the Flying Laptop project.
After all the systems were commissioned during the first week after the project launch, the Flying Laptop began regular operation. Project manager Sabine Klinkner, Professor for Satellite Technology at the IRS sums up: “All components were successfully commissioned, the satellite system was stable from the beginning and is undergoing continuous optimization. The project, carried out by doctoral students and students at our institute, is a great success for research and teaching in the field of Stuttgart’s space flight research.” The communication via the university’s ground station is functioning flawlessly via 2200 ground contacts, says the scientist.
Since the launch, several software updates have been successfully carried out. The operational processes are being further automated on the ground and the data is being processed during the satellite’s regular operation. In its first year, the Flying Laptop has fulfilled most of its mission targets, and it has even begun tackling new tasks.
The satellite has already been in orbit for one year, half of its intended lifespan. But, because it has now reliably orbited the earth 5000 without any issues, the Flying Laptop team is preparing to extend the duration of the mission. In addition to the initial aims of the mission, security aspects of satellite communication, recording space debris, and, if applicable, astronomic questions will also be investigated
The first image: Stuttgart
Just five days after the launch, one of the two camera systems sent an image of Stuttgart to the ground station. Since then, the camera systems have taken and transmitted around 11,600 images (10 GByte of image data). For example, the multispectral camera regularly takes images of agricultural areas in Malaysia, which are then made available to the Putra University in Malaysia.
Important findings for global shipping traffic
The satellite’s ship signal receiver has also delivered good results. For the purpose of monitoring shipping traffic in collaboration with the DLR Institute in Bremen, 369,000 messages have been recorded with the help of an AIS receiver on board the Flying Laptop. These are currently being analysed.
Conducting the GENIUS Experiment with the DLR
The GENIUS Experiment was successfully carried out in collaboration with the German Aerospace Center. For this experiment, data from the three GPS receivers on board the Flying Laptop were analyzed. Using the positioning information from the three GPS antennae – this information is being transmitted continuously by the GPS system – the known antennae arrangement provides information about the position of the satellite in space. The experiment findings have already been published so that the principles of position control are available for any subsequent missions.
The small satellite is enriching university teaching
This mission is particularly important for the students, who are very involved in the operation of the satellite. For example, they are currently using the Flying Laptop to develop a satellite application in the field of earth observation.
The Flying Laptop has also delivered initial results in its role as technology demonstrator. Status information is being regularly transmitted for the various new technologies, the functions of which are being tested for the first time on board the Flying Laptop mission in orbit. This enables the scientists to analyze the long-term behavior of the components under the influence of specific space conditions, especially any conditions where the electric components are impaired due to the effects of radiation.
One year ago: the perfect start, start-up and operation in space
Just four days after the launch, the most critical phase of the mission had already been completed. The so-called Launch and Early Orbit Phase (LEOP) involved establishing first radio contact, unfolding the solar panels to ensure a reliable energy supply and commissioning the most important satellite components, such as the board computer, the communication system and the altitude control system. The next two months involved bringing the rest of the satellite components, their redundant systems and all payload capacities into operation. This all worked perfectly, thus ending phase 2 of the satellite operation, the Commissioning Phase.
The institute’s ground station was also successfully brought into operation during the Commissioning Phase. During the first four days, the operation was controlled via the DLR ground station. Since that time, the satellite has been operated via the institute’s own ground station. In addition, the receiving antenna from the Research Centre for Geosciences Potsdamin Ny-Ålesund is also being used to collect payload data.