Our team has developed products or provided engineering work for more than 10 ESA missions, 7 nanosatellite missions, the Swiss watch industry and the Swiss transportation industry.
Proba-3 is ESA’s – and the world’s – first precision formation flying mission to be launched in end of 2018. A pair of satellites will fly together maintaining a fixed configuration as a ‘large rigid structure’ in space to prove formation flying technologies. The mission will demonstrate formation flying in the context of a large-scale science experiment. The paired satellites will together form a 150-m long solar coronagraph to study the Sun’s faint corona closer to the solar rim than has ever before been achieved. Beside its scientific interest, the experiment will be a perfect instrument to measure the achievement of the precise positioning of the two spacecraft. The occulter S/C will further host the payload experiment DARA (Digital Absolute Radiometer). It will contribute to the contiguous observation of one of the most fundamental climate variables, the Total Solar Irradiance (TSI). DARA is designed to set new standards regarding accuracy, stability, and measurement cadence of the TSI. ELSE are providing the digital processor and controller board for the DARA instrument. This is based upon a heritage design but with a much higher radiation constraint. This requires a complete redesign of existing radiometer hardware. The design is split into phases, which include the production of a Breadboard, two Engineering model PCBs, a radiation test sample PCB and two flight models. The controller board has a both digital and analogue electronics covering processing and housekeeping acquisition for the PCB itself and other housekeeping vectors from the rest of the instrument.
SwissCube is the first satellite entirely built in Switzerland. It follows the 1-unit CubeSat standard which is very small in size since it occupies a volume of 1 litre (10x10x10 cm) and weighs less than 1 kg. It was launched in September 2009 and it is still operational after 7 years. It has taken hundreds of pictures with its embedded telescope. More than 250 students have participated to this amazing project. Four key-engineers of the project are now working for ELSE.
The PRISMA mission (SNSB and OHB Sweden former SSC), launched on June 15th 2010, has been a precursor project for formation-flying and on-orbit-servicing missions. Mission objectives were the validation of formation flying sensor and actuator technology and the demonstration of experiments for formation flying and rendezvous. Key sensor and actuator components comprise a GPS receiver system (DLR/GSOC), a vision-based sensor (TDU), a formation-flying radio-frequency sensor (CNES and CDTI), a high-performance green propellant system (SSC/ECAPS) and a cold-gas microthruster system (SSC/NANOSPACE). The experiments were: 1) autonomous formation-flying (GPS- or FFRF-based), 2) homing and rendezvous (vision-based), 3) precision 3-D proximity operations (GPS- or vision-based), and 4) final approach and recede maneuvers (vision-based). Sergio De Florio contributed to PRISMA while employed at DLR/GSOC in the formation flying team. DLR/GSOC developed the GPS-based absolute and relative navigation system, autonomous formation flying and orbit keeping experiments (about two months of total experiment time), as well as the on-ground GPS-based POD layer for experiments validation.
CubETH is a joint project between EPFL’s Swiss Space Center and ETHZ whose main objective is to build a 1U CubeSat scheduled for launch in 2016-17. The CubETH spacecraft will be capable of calculating its own altitude and position in space with unprecedented precision thus paving the way for nano-satellite constellations with inter-satellite communication capabilities. This mission will use a GNSS-based navigation information system using five patch antennas, each connected to two independent u-blox receivers. These miniaturized and low-cost receivers are able to track single-frequency code and phase data of all the major GNSS. CubETH is the first mission that officially uses ELSE xU structure. ELSE engineers are deeply involved in this projects.
The CHaracterizing ExOPlanet Satellite (CHEOPS) mission is led by the Center for Space and Habitability at the University of Bern, Switzerland, with contributions from Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. CHEOPS was selected in October 2012 from among 26 proposals as the first S-class space mission in ESA's Science Programme. It will be the first mission dedicated to search for exoplanetary transits by means of ultrahigh precision photometry on bright stars already known to host planets. By being able to point at nearly any location on the sky, it will provide the unique capability of determining accurate radii for a subset of those planets for which the mass has already been estimated from ground-based spectroscopic surveys. ELSE engineers have participated in the mission definition, science requirements analysis and flight system requirements derivation for the preparation of the S-class proposal.
The debris orbiting Earth are accumulating. Although collisions with operational satellites are rare, each collision can generate several thousands of new debris. The problem is becoming increasingly serious. CleanSpace One is a 30 kilograms technology demonstration spacecraft designed to chase the SwissCube, capture and safely de-orbit the target craft. The mission aims to demonstrate orbital identification and rendezvous with an uncooperative target (debris). It has an estimated cost of about 15 million Swiss Francs ($16 million). It is a formidable feat of engineering. ELSE engineers have participated in the mission definition and analysis of the satellite system requirements.
ELSE engineers have contributed to the design of three scientific instruments on the 2018 ESA ExoMars Rover Mission: the LIBS/Raman spectrometer (CDHU design), the PanCam WAC Module (technical management), and the CLUPI (electronic design).
This project included the full redesign of the data processing unit for the Fluxgate Magnetometer on board the four Cluster spacecraft. The design and build of this system included prototype design, EM design, FM design, qualification and FM production. The full spectrum of flight electronics production was followed in accordance with ESA QA/PA specifications. This system included the use of a space qualified FPGA. This was an Actel Anti-Fuse FPGA and part of the Actel radiation hardened family. The mission was launched in 2000 and is still active in 2015 after many years of valuable magnetic data acquisition. All of the systems designed still function in nominal mode with no anomalies seen during the 15 year flight period.
During work upon the ESA highly integrated payload development (HIPS), Julian Harris of ELSE developed an elegant breadboard of a miniaturized SpaceWire enabled high definition camera. The camera was based upon a CMOS active pixel sensor (Cypress IBIS5) and Actel FPGA technology. All imager control was performed by state machines integrated within the FPGA. These machines handled the driving and sequencing of the sensor, data acquisition, ADC control and SpaceWire communication. A set of state machines handled both snapshot mode and rolling shutter mode image acquisition. The breadboard was fabricated and fully tested using a PC based Spacewire system with visual C++ EGSE software. Images were acquired at a rate of 4 frames per second at a resolution of 1280x1024 pixels, enabling low frame rate video to be captured. This was using a SpaceWire transmission rate of 80Mbps. The breadboard camera PCB is shown below as part of a dual camera (stereocam) system connected to the SpaceWire link.
During an advanced payload technology study for ESA, Julian Harris of ELSE developed and produced the electronics for a miniaturised LIDAR. The system was based upon a high precision timing device (with space heritage) and a large FPGA housing a LEON processor unit. As well as the processing system, the FPGA controlled all aspects of the timing device and also housed a Spacewire interface for telemetry and housekeeping information. A high voltage system was also built and controlled from the FPGA in order to drive SPAD detectors as well as a heating system employing PWM drivers and a digital thermal feedback system. The processor system ran embedded code which enabled a photon counting system to be realised using statistical processing. The LIDAR was fully tested and proved to be able to detect the surface topology of a simulated planetary surface from a distance of 1000km with extremely high accuracy. Both the main LIDAR PCB and the thermal management PCB are shown on the picture.