Partnering to Provide More than 600 Students with Hands-on Experience

The European Student Earth Orbiter (ESEO) is one of the hands-on space projects of the European Space Agency (ESA) jointly with SITAEL – the largest privately-owned space company in Italy and leading smallsat developer. Ten Universities from eight ESA Member States have participated in ESEO, with more than 600 university students involved in the project since its inception. ESEO aims to improve students’ skills and competences for the space sector, boosting their motivation to be engaged in the space domain and to offer experience on a real space project

For this particular project, SITAEL developed the satellite platform, performed the system integration and testing (including the student-built payload and subsystems), and provided technical support to the student teams under ESA’s coordination.

ESEO Hosts a Range of Capabilities

During its operational mission phase, ESEO will run the scientific experiments and test the various technology demonstrations designed and built by the students. The goal in creating a satellite with a breadth of capabilities was to entice participation from students interested in a variety of technical and scientific subjects. The capabilities students were responsible for creating on the satellite include:

  • Capture Images of the Earth: A micro camera will take pictures of the Earth in visible light for educational and ESA Scientific communication purposes. The camera was developed by the Tartu Observatory (University of Tartu), Estonia.
  • Measure Radiation Levels in Low Earth Orbit: Dedicated sensors will measure the absorbed radiation dose, the biological effectiveness of the radiation, and the Linear Energy Transfer spectra of cosmic radiation. These instruments were developed by the Budapest University of Technology and Economics and the Hungarian Academy of Science in Budapest, Hungary, respectively.
  • Test Technologies for Future Missions: An S-band communication system developed by the Wroclaw University of Technology in Poland, will serve as a downlink for scientific data and measurements. Additionally, a GPS receiver developed by the University of Bologna, Italy, will test real-time GPS-based positioning for satellites in Low Earth Orbit.

Another technology on the satellite includes an Attitude Determination Estimator, a software experiment coordinated by the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, that will verify the efficiency of four different computing algorithms for attitude and orbit determination. Finally, at the end of the flight operations, a de-orbiting mechanism – a deployable sail built by Cranfield University in the United Kingdom – will be deployed in order to increase the atmospheric drag and will accelerate the satellite’s re-entry.

  • Operate Ground Stations to Collect Data from Experiments: An ultra-high frequency main ground station in Italy, managed by the University of Bologna, will be dedicated to the uplink and downlink of operational data. Also, a back-up station managed by the University of Vigo, Spain, is in place. All data from the satellite’s experiments will be transmitted to a ground station based at Munich University of Technology.
  • Enable amateur satellite radio connection to the satellite in VHF-band: A radio communication system to provide a continuous stream of satellite and science data for educational use in schools, colleges and universities. The AMSAT-UK payload flies a number of new commercial processors and radio parts in space for the first time and is the first amateur satellite payload to use L-band communication.

Furthering Education through Data Collection

Many educational objectives of ESEO’s mission were met before the launch even took place as university student teams from ESA Member States acquired hands-on experience through all phases of this project under the mentorship of professional space experts.

“It’s a great result for SITAEL,” said Nicola Zaccheo, SITAEL CEO. “ESEO’s mission represents a crucial milestone for SITAEL roadmap in innovative small satellites development, confirming SITAEL’s role in the new space economy.”

Once in orbit ESEO will generate an additional learning opportunity for students, allowing them to learn about satellite mission operations management. In fact, students will operate ESEO once on orbit. The satellite will take images of the Earth, measure radiation levels in low-Earth orbit, test technologies for future small space missions, and enable amateur radio connection to the satellite for educational purposes.

Spaceflight’s SSO-A: SmallSat Express dedicated rideshare mission presented an opportunity to ESEO, an educational program. With this launch option, ESEO was not required to purchase an entire launch vehicle and was truly the best available option for this mission.


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