Research Funding

ASTREA - “[A] pico[S]atellite for [T]esting [RE]liability in sp[A]ce”

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36 months,  Start: 2020-05-19,  End: 2023-05-18
MCST R&I Fusion 2018 (R&I-2018-002-T)
Blu5 Labs Ltd
EUR 211,256
EUR 146,229
Dr Ing. Marc Anthony Azzopardi 
Mr Daniel Cumbo, Oliver Vassallo

 

Space is under-exploited.

An emerging industry called NewSpace seeks to fill the void by re-purposing commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) technology for use in a generation of lower-cost spacecraft that are within the reach of small organisations and even entrepreneurial individuals.

However, COTS components require validation for use in the space environment and this is still a costly affair. Conventionally, such devices must undergo qualification testing that includes thermal vacuum, vibration endurance as well as radiation testing at a handful of specialist facilities around the world. However, lab-testing of COTS devices to ECSS (European Cooperation for Space Standardization) space standards is expensive, and yet, it still cannot faithfully replace the gold-standard of in-orbit validation, because it cannot fully replicate the combined conditions found in the space environment. 

Devices must gain actual flight heritage before they can be considered for higher value missions. The University of Malta and Blu5 Labs Ltd are collaborating to develop a practical, low cost solution to allow end users and electronics manufacturers to test electronic devices, systems and materials directly in space.

This will take the form of a miniaturized SpaceLab capsule - a PicoSatellite platform that can be launched by customers to carry-out several types of tests on components in space. This will leverage small spacecraft development that is currently taking place at the University of Malta. The development will include the development of a prototypical test payload including all the electronics to evaluate an electronic “device under test” (DUT).  

Project ASTREA is financed by the Malta Council for Science & Technology through FUSION: The R&I Technology Development Programme 2019'. 

 

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RESOLUTE - “[R]adiation tol[E]rance te[S]ting [O]f pico-sate[L]lite s[U]bsys[TE]ms"

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20 months,  Start: 2019-09-01,  End: 2020-04-30
MCST-CNES Space Bilateral Fund (CNES-2019-1)
Centre National d'Etudes Spatiale Postdoctoral (CNES)
EUR 50,000
EUR 50,000
Dr Ing. Marc Anthony Azzopardi 
Mr Glenn Zammit

 

RESOLUTE is centered around the development of reliable astrionic systems for pico-satellites. More specifically, the main objective is to develop highly miniaturized, radiation tolerant, on-board computer (OBC) systems suitable for integration into a PocketQube pico-satellite on double sided PCBs no larger than 42x42 mm2. 

In such an application, there is limited scope for redundancy and shielding because the PCB area, total mass and total power consumption are severely restricted. Yet, the system is required to achieve systemic reliability, even when its constituent commercial off the shelf (COTS) parts are subjected to sporadic, as well as cumulative, radiation damage.

RESOLUTE envisages collaboration with an established space research organisation such as CNES in order to gain experience in terms of robust, radiation-tolerant, electronic design for space applications. Through this collaboration, experimental hardware will be developed using COTS devices, which will then be subjected to controlled doses of radiation under laboratory conditions, in order to evaluate suitable candidate components as well as suitable design techniques.

The knowledge gained through the proposed study will have a broader impact on the ultimate success of the wider pico-satellite project, because similar COTS hardware may also be used in other contexts within the same PocketQube pico-satellite. These include communication systems, attitude controls systems, propulsion systems and electrical power supplies. 

The highly interdisciplinary team of Maltese researchers brings with it a wealth of experience in terms of electronics development but needs specialized design guidance for space applications, and access to specialized testing facilities as it aspires towards conformity to ESCC (European Cooperation for Space Standardization) standards. 

Project RESOLUTE is financed by the Malta Council for Science & Technology, for and on behalf of the Foundation for Science and Technology, through the MCST-CNES Space Bilateral Fund. 

 

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FLUENT - "[F]ault-to[L]erant attit[U]de & orbital d[E]termnation & co[N]trol platform for pico-sa[T]ellites"

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36 months,  Start: 2020-10-01,  End: 2023-10-01
TRAKE Post Doctoral Research Fund (UM)
EUR 100,000
EUR 100,000
Mr Darren Debattista

 

FLUENT seeks to create a reliable Attitude & Orbital determination & Control Subsystem (AOCS) that will be scaled down to fit into a 250gram, 5cm, cubic picosatellite – a world-first attempt – that will enable the deployment of useful picosatellite constellations. These tiny spacecraft are envisaged to be put into low earth orbit in large numbers, and at modest cost, to collaboratively perform a variety of complex tasks that depend on a reliable AOCS.

The challenge lies in the miniaturization of this complex subsystem, without compromising on reliability, by intelligently exploiting the limited resource redundancy present in the AOCS. Considerable value is added to the system through the use of system-level fault-tolerant adaptive-control rather than through expensive space-qualified materials and parts. Using this methodology, material costs can be reduced by a factor of 1000 while retaining the high value of a space-qualified AOCS.

Project FLUENT is part-financed by the European Union under the European Regional Development Fund – European Structural and Investment Funds 2014-2020. 

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https://www.um.edu.mt/r/research/astrionics/funding