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The Government's investment in Esrange of great importance to Luleå University of Technology

Published: 2 November 2020

The government’s investment of 90 million SEK over three years, is specifically meant to enable orbital launches from Esrange – in particular launching small satellites into low Earth orbit. This will also lead to more flight opportunities for LTU’s nano satellites just “next door” to the Kiruna space campus

– The Government's investment in Esrange,  strengthens Luleå University of Technology's profile as Sweden's space university. Our strength is to conduct research and education in close collaboration with the space industry - and now that opportunity is increasing, Olle Norberg, says, Vice Rector for Space Technology at Luleå University of Technology.

Great oportunity for students in Master Programme in Space Engineering
René Laufer, Professor of Onboard Space Systems at Luleå University of Technology, is very positiv to the  Government's investment in Esrange:
– The government’s investment will allow for students to be involved in nano satellite missions from the idea and concept through design and development to launch and operations at one location! A unique capability, only available at very few places globally, René Laufer says, Professor of Onboard Space Systems at Luleå University of Technology, René Laufer, says, Professor of Onboard Space Systems at Luleå University of Technology.

Plan for nanosatellites into lunar orbit
At Luleå University of Technology at the Kiruna Space Campus work is right now ongoing on two nano satellites: APTAS, a student-led 1U cubesat, and Kvarkensat, a 2U cubesat as part of a Swedish-Finnish university collaboration. Both are focusing on technology demonstration and remote sensing – in the areas of atmospheric science (in collaboration with EISCAT) and Earth observation respectively.

– We plan to send LTU nano satellites beyond low Earth orbit – for example into the vicinity of the moon and into lunar orbit or even further into deep space to demonstrate technologies for space exploration, study the interactions between Earth and moon and perform remote sensing and in-situ measurements at the moon and in deep space. Before doing this we need to test necessary technologies: for example microwave communications, deep space navigation, spacecraft propulsion among others with upcoming nano satellite missions. So, Lule University of Technology missions beyond Earth orbit will likely happen after 2025 or later, René Laufer says.

Luleå University of Technology built and launched in 2017 the 2 kg nano satellite QBEE50-LTU-OC in collaboration with Open Cosmos. The 2U cubesat was part of the European QB50 project of several universities to study the upper atmosphere using a constellation of small satellites. QBEE50-LTU-OC entered Earth’s atmosphere in 2019 and burnt up completely.

–Sustainable and avoiding becoming permanent space debris, René Laufer says.

Like building with LEGO bricks
Luleå University of Technology’s current nano satellites under development range from 1 to about 2 kg mass and around 10 cm cube up to 10 cm x 10 cm x 20 cm in their launch configuration before deploying antennas and other components. Nowadays nano satellites are assembled a little bit like building with LEGO bricks – just more complicated when it comes to make everything (electronics, mechanisms, programming) work well together. Many components like batteries, solar cells, antennas, onboard computers and others are purchased and then assembled, integrated and tested at the LTU Space Campus in Kiruna in the clean room and test facilities of the Nano Satellite Lab.

– Like all very complex systems, having all components – hardware and software – interfacing and working well with each other to make sure everything operates flawlessly in space is the constant challenge in manufacturing a small satellite, René Laufer says.

Similar to a mobile phone
A nano satellite is an extremely miniaturized electronics package – quite similar to a mobile phone – often box-shaped and about the size of a milk or orange juice package. Its workings are again quite similar to a mobile phone – making observations with its payload (for example taking pictures with a camera), communicating with its ground station, charging its batteries through the solar arrays, processing and storing data onboard for later transmission, receiving command from its mission control center, etc.

The international most common classification of small satellites is through the spacecraft mass. Nano satellites are in the range from over 1 kg up to 10 kg – often 2U, 3U or 6U cubesats with one unit (U) having approx. 1-1.5 kg mass.

– René Laufer says, that Esrange and the space ecosystem around it, with companies, universities, research institutions, space agencies performing commercial space business as well as academic research is an important enabler in the region.

Esrange, a great opportunity for students
Programs like REXUS and BEXUS providing students for over a decade with the opportunities to gain real hands-on experience in developing and launching their own projects from Esrange into near-space is only one example of valuable education and capacity building. Such programs help students and LTU staff gaining the necessary experience to later build nano satellites, designing miniaturized payloads, or operate a space mission.

Few places like this in the world
Also the exchange of space engineering expertise and the close collaborations in joint research of SSC Esrange and LTU contribute significantly to the university’s nano satellite projects.

–There are very few places on this globe where you have world-class research institutions, university space science and engineering education and research, renowned space industry and an operational launch site at one location, René Laufer.

On 11 November at 12:00, René Laufer will give a lecture in the House of Science in Luleå, the lecture is also given digitaly: How far is it from Norrbotten to Space?

Olle Norberg

Olle Norberg, Operational Manager, Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Space Technology

Phone: +46 (0)980 67578
Organisation: Atmospheric science, Space Technology, Professional Support, Department of Computer Science, Electrical and Space Engineering
René Laufer

René Laufer, Professor and Head of Subject, Chaired Professor

Phone: +46 (0)980 67582
Organisation: Onboard space systems, Space Technology, Department of Computer Science, Electrical and Space Engineering