RESEARCH & SCIENCE

While Space seems to be a hostile environment, it offers unique conditions, which are nowhere to be found on earth

Using these conditions to the benefit of science and technology can bring humanity a huge step forward. Ultimately, research in space is the key to a successful colonization of our solar system

Micro gravity, radiation, vacuum as well as the extreme temperatures are challenging both – man and machine. While they can be simulated on earth separately, the combination only exists in space. Combined, microgravity and vacuum allow for novel production methods, e.g. in-space manufacturing of large structures but also new processes in the field of semiconductors. The combined effects of microgravity and radiation on cell & tissue growth are focal points of space biological research today.

While most of the research today is done on board of the International Space Station, new business ideas have demonstrated the value of CubeSats as an alternative platform. German Orbital Systems’ GROOVE platform underlines the commitment of the company to this particular field. The innovative shared satellite platform allows for very cost-effective experiments in space. Up to 10 customers can share a bus to bring their payloads to space at a fraction of typical costs.

CubeSats have already been used to bring a variety of exciting scientific experiments from different domains to space. Since several years now a separate committee of the American National Academy of Sciences addresses the possibilities of the novel platforms. In 2016 it published a book called “Achieving Science with CubeSats” which identified several domains which have or will benefit from CubeSats.

Biological and Physical Science in Space

CubeSats have significant potential to advance scientific knowledge by e.g. contributing to the understanding of plant and microbial growth and their response to the space environment, by helping to study complex fluids and soft matter in miniaturized microgravity laboratories or by testing new advanced materials needed for further space exploration. Biological research is especially significant, as it helps to characterize the impact of space environment on a human crew on long missions beyond the orbit of our planet. It also is important for astrobiology as it helps to understand which conditions are needed for life to survive beyond Earth. CubeSats in this context have a huge potential as miniaturized, autonomous in-situ laboratories. With BIO-GROOVE German Orbital Systems has already presented a concept allowing for biological research in an incubation chamber on board of a 6U CubeSat. Other companies also presented pharmaceutical laboratories and other potential use cases for CubeSat platforms.

Planetary Science

Planetary science is the reason for most flagship missions launched in the past decade. The findings from Cassini, Hubble or Curiosity have influenced and disrupted our understanding of the solar system, of our galaxy and of the universe. Nevertheless, while being much cheaper and less sophisticated, CubeSats can play a role in future missions. Their size makes them ideal to be transported as piggyback payloads to distant planets. There they can be used for complimentary observations to enhance the overall science return of the flagship mission. Several deep space CubeSats are under development worldwide with the MarCO (Mars CubeSat ONE) satellites being the most famous already launched ones.

Solar and Space Physics

Our Earth-Sun system is a highly coupled system. The sun influences our planet in many different ways and the origins of its activity are still not fully understood. A better understanding would allow to predict the variations of the space environment, the so-called space weather. German Orbital Systems is actively involved in several CubeSat Missions allowing to measure the density of heavy particles in the low earth orbit. For these missions GOS has provided the CubeSat busses. In the framework of GROOVE, GOS will demonstrate novel radiation sensors which will allow for the best-in-class radiation measurements. But CubeSats are not limited to only measuring radiation. They can also play a vital role in determining the dynamics of the coupling of the Earth’s magnetosphere, ionosphere, atmosphere and their response to solar inputs.

Several CubeSat missions have already shown their value for solar and space physics research. Nevertheless, the required miniaturization of the measurement equipment results in limitations in measurement precision and sensitivity. One way to overcome these limitations is to use distributed satellite systems to produce so called multipoint measurements. As small, miniaturized propulsion modules and high precision AOCS are getting more mature and more affordable – a new breakthrough in solar and space physics based on distributed CubeSat network measurements is approaching.

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