Youth designing unmanned machines and satellites

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In 2013, for the first time in the country, Lithuanian Space Association invited young people to participate in designing space technologies. A competition of miniaturized satellites CanSat, rockets and un-manned aircrafts. On the 6th of July, the best designers of space technologies in the country were awarded in the Ignalina cosmodrome.

Justina Mikeliūnaitė

Satellites and unmanned machines launched from Lithuanian cosmodrome

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The initiators of the competition were the Lithuanian Space Association, Space Science and Technology Institute (KMTI), UAB Pakilimo takas, Lithuanian Ethno-Cosmology Museum. The competition was arranged to commemorate 80th anniversary of transatlantic flight by Steponas Darius and Stasys Girėnas. On the 6th of July, participants have demonstrated the possibilities of the satellites they have been designing the last half of the year during the final launches. According to the organizers, such events and the technologies presented during such events makes the space closer to us.
Ignalina cosmodrome managed by UAB Pakilimo takas is an special site in Lithuania for launching rockets up to the height of 22 kilometres in the radius of 20 kilometres. This competition of CanSat satellites, rockets and unmanned aircrafts was the first competition of this kind to have been arranged in the country and it was quite a challenge for the cosmodrome, however it proved to be suitable for safe rocket launch


Final starts

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During the final starts, the satellites of the competitors at the Competition of CanSat satellites were launched from the rockets to the height of 1000 metres. The satellites were supposed to safely land on the ground and record flight information to be processed by the teams. Without the required tasks, participants were free to choose additional tasks, for example transmit data and images during the flight, or to safety bring back a raw chicken egg. In another task, unmanned aircrafts were supposed to reach the height of 150-200 metres, to fly the required distance, locate horizontal and vertical targets, read the information, record flight data and land safely. All the information obtained during the flight was presented to the jury.

In the group of unmanned aircrafts, there were six teams competing, and only half of them managed to launch their aircrafts, and only a single team accomplished all the tasks. In the category of CanSat satellites, seven teams were competing.

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The young scientists were assessed by a jury that consisted of the following members: professor Algimantas Fedaravičius from Kaunas University of Technology, Department of Transport Engineering, Head of the Department of Air Defence Battalion Operations of the Lithuanian Air Force Captain Ovidijus Pilitauskas, Head of the Innovation Policy Division of the Innovation and Knowledge Society Department at the Ministry of Economy Vilma Purienė, first year doctoral student of Vilnius Gediminas Technical University (VGTU) Antanas Gustaitis Aviation Institute (AGAI) Tadas Masiulionis, KMTI director dr. Domantas Bručas.

Unmanned aircrafts will replace the manned ones

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Unmanned aircrafts can serve for various purposes, and various areas. According to Dr. Bručas, currently, the unmanned aircrafts are mostly used for aerial surveillance and various other tasks from environmental monitoring, ensuring wireless connection to carrying cargo and even passengers.
“It was estimated that within the next 5-10 years, we will witness a rapid growth in the use of unmanned aircrafts with emergence of large commercial unmanned aircrafts that will eventually replace the manned aircrafts in the market. And after 15-20, the majority of flights will be performed by unmanned aircrafts. Pilots will be only present in passenger aircrafts, and only for the peace of passengers”, – shared his observations Dr. Bručas.

A can brings space technology closer to people

A CanSat looks like a usual can with microchips inside. The name for this type of satellites emerged in 1998. For the sake of simplicity and standardization, it was offered to put an electronic device into a soda can. “A soda can is round and fits well into a rocket. In terms of the purpose, the most important are the educational aspects.
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CanSats are intended to simulate flights of real satellites: overloads, switching on connection, short sessions of communication, etc. In this way students and all other space enthusiasts may get a real-life experience of how to design a satellite, learn the principles of satellite design, and have the chance to see the equipment that is intended for working in extreme conditions – in satellites and aircrafts”, – said Dr. Bručas. Mr. Bružas, who currently is the head of the technical team working on launching the first Lithuanian satellite LitSat-1 added that this project only proves that education and training in this area are at high level. Those who currently work on the small CanSat satellites soon might soon be given a possibility to take up some ambitious projects in real space.

Winner of the competition

The first prize in the contest of CanSat satellites was awarded to the VGTU team CanSat-1 (Vilnius) led by Eldar Šabanovič. The second prize was awarded to CANSAT Molėtai (Molėtai), and the third one to Robotoidai (Kaunas). In the contest of unmanned aircrafts, the first place winner was Robonautai (Vilnius), the second place winner was the team from Vilnius Lyceum, and the third place winner was the team CAPTURE from the capital city. After the award ceremony, participants claimed that the final launches are not the last ones in their career of space experiments.

The Director of Space Science and Technology Institute, and the technical manager of the Lithuanian satellite LitSat-1 Dr. Bručas claimed that the young people that have participated in this event have the required competence to construct aircrafts and launch them. He added, that some of them might even be invited to join the first Lithuanian space mission – designing and launching of a satellite. CanSat satellites are lifted up to the height of one kilometre, and do not reach the space. CubSat will be taken to the International Space Station from which it will be lifted up to the orbit that is at the distance of four hundred kilometres from the earth, and fly in the space for half of a year,” – explained the director of Lithuanian Space Association Vidmantas Tomkus. The unmanned aircrafts launched during the competition are currently being adapted. “These technologies are future technologies. Many foreign military services use them. Lithuanian military service is not an exception. These technologies are very useful for us, air defence officer when designing targets for antiaircraft weapons,” – said Captain Pilitauskas.

Comments from the participants

The leader of the team CanSat-1 from VGTU (Vilnius Gediminas Technical University) that has won the first place in the CanSat contest ELDAR ŠABANOVIČ, master student of the Electronics Engineering Computerized Electronic Systems Specialty in the Faculty of Electronics of VGTU: “I was looking for an interesting topic for my final bachelor thesis. I have chosen CanSat due to its “freshness”, and driven by the willingness to apply my knowledge and experience. I have chosen the more complex way: I have designed all the electronic part by myself, and I used the components that were rarely used by other CanSat designers. I have spared much time for designing software. The satellite CanSat-1 designed by VGTU team is an electronic system intended for simulating a real satellite and landing systems.

The measurements of the satellites despite the antenna and the parachute, corresponds to the main requirements applied for this type of satellites (diameter – 66 mm, height – 115 mm). We have managed to achieve an extremely low satellite mass of 203 grams (with the parachute) due to frame-free construction and light fixing materials, including nylon bolts, aluminium plate holders, and a casing made of 330 ml aluminium soft drink can. When lifting up the satellites during the competition we have noticed that this combination of materials perfectly well withstand the acceleration during lifting up of the satellite with the help of a rocket. We were not able to measure the maximum value of acceleration for it has exceeded Earth’s gravitational acceleration more than eight times.
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The organizers of the competition said that acceleration could have exceeded the Earth’s gravitational acceleration 18 times. For the satellite system, high-performance microcontroller with the ARM Cortex-M4 processor core, and large program and main memory. Various sensors were used: three-axis accelerometer, three-axis gyroscope, three-axis magnetometer, thermometer, and barometer. The data from the listed sensors and data readings from the GPS receiver used are collected every second, processed and transmitted by radio communication. For storing all the collected data, memory card Micro SD connected to microprocessor was used. In this case it functions as a flight recorder because in the case of radio receiver failure or having found the landed satellite, all the data could be retrieved from the card. The data obtained by the satellite were transmitted to the earth station that consisted of a computer, radio transceiver, and directional antenna. For powering the system of the satellite, the batteries of NiMH type were used, which allowed significantly reducing the risk of fire compared to lithium polymer batteries. The obtained duration of operation exceeded four hours: this time is enough to lift up the satellite with a rocket and find it two times presuming that launching takes half an hour, and landing as well as searching takes one and a half. During the final starts, launching and landing took nine minutes. Searching for the satellite took an hour. The satellite was lifted up to the height of 1040 metres, however, during landing, it was taken away by wind for more than 2.5. We managed to find the satellite thanks to the integrated GPS receiver, which transmitted the coordinates of the satellite to the ground station. In the future, we need to exploit the potential of the electronic system of the satellite, which is impossible with the current software written into the microcontroller. We need to connect a video recorder to the satellite and develop a software that would allow transmitting imaged from the satellite to the ground station. Also, we need to work on controlling the satellite from the ground station and maintaining two-way communication. It would be great we could manage to design a satellite with the controlled landing system that would allow controlling the landing trajectory of the satellite. I am looking forward to finding colleagues willing to join our team and work towards implementation of these plans.”

ernestas kalabuckas
E. Kalabuckas

The main designer of the team CANSAT Molėtai that has won the second place in the CanSat contest ERNESTAS KALABUCKAS, third year bachelor student of Telecommunication Physics and Electronics of Vilnius University: CanSat is a model of a real satellite. It is not designed to operate in extreme environment, however, it performs practically identical functions like a real satellite. It must have a rigid structure for similarly as a real satellite, this is also launched with the help of a rocket resulting in high overloading upon lifting up. All the equipment must fit into 0.33 l soda can. The name CanSat was derived from two English words ‘can’ and ‘satellite’. It might sound very scientific or complex, however, you do not have to be an achiever or a rich man to design an operative device. The most important factors are willingness to work and persistence, and the rest will come by itself: technical skills, knowledge in programming, sponsors. Most of the equipment required is provided by the organizers of the competition, you only need to find out how to design an operating device. The simplest solutions are always best. It is not necessary to design a satellite that will accomplish all the tasks. It is always better to have less but reliable. The winners of the competitions must not necessarily be those who are the most knowledgeable in the areas of electronics and programming. This was proved by the first CanSat contest when some of really strong teams faced difficulties in rather simple situations and were overtaken by the opponents. One of the weaknesses of our team was planning of time. Despite the fact that all the contestants were given half a year to design an operating device we did not have one a week before the final starts.  Only then the work has started. We started from programming. It turned out to be more complicated than it seemed. Most of the time was spent for programming, however, a programmer in a team would have dealt with this part of designing a satellite quite easily. The next stage was assembling. Inside the satellite, there cannot be any moving or sensitive parts; all the plates need to be securely fixed to the can. You can use the already known methods, or invent something new. Organizers offer all the necessary help: give instructions, help with soldering. Thus, everyone willing can design a satellite. It is important to have at least one person in a team that has some knowledge in programming and electronics. The most valuable is the experience we gain in such competitions, which will help us in the future while designing more complex devices.”

The article prepared as a part of the project “Encouraging local and international scientific cooperation, and competence development” funded by the European Social Fund and the Ministry of Education and Science.

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This publication prepared by „Aviacijos pasaulis” aviacijos_pasaulis_logo