Photo Credit: Courtesy
Israel Space Agency

By Yona Schnitzer

The Technion and the Israel Space Agency have announced that in late 2018, a group of three nanosatellites flying in a controlled formation, will be launched into space for the first time. The satellite formation will be launched by Dutch company Innovative Solutions In Space, which specializes in launching nanosatellites on the Indian PSLV (Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle).

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The Adelis-SAMSON Project has been developed in recent years by a team of researchers headed by Prof. Pini Gurfil, Director of the Technion’s Asher Space Research Institute. The goal of the project is to prove that a group of satellites can fly in a controlled formation for one year while orbiting at an altitude of about 600 kilometers.

The satellites will be used for receiving signals from earth and calculating the location of the source of transmission for search and rescue operations, remote sensing, and environmental monitoring. The size of each of the satellites is 10X20X30 cm – about the size of a shoebox, and they weigh a total of around 8 kg. The satellites will be equipped with measuring devices, antennas, computer systems, control systems and navigation devices. The flight software and algorithms were developed in the Technion Distributed Space Systems Lab.

“Satellite miniaturization together with advanced Israeli technology will enable us to take Israel an important step forward in the field of nanosatellites,” explained Prof. Gurfil. “The degree of innovation here can be compared to switching from a PC to a laptop and then to a mobile phone, which offers far more capabilities than its predecessors.”

“The field of nanosatellites has developed significantly in recent years and the number of launches doubles annually,” said Mr. Avi Blasberger, Director General of the Israel Space Agency. “The development and launch costs of such satellites are significantly lower than those of conventional satellites. In the near future, we can expect networks of thousands of nanosatellites that will fly above the earth and enable high-speed Internet communication at significantly lower cost than today.”

The satellite’s unique technology is all “blue and white”: Rafael’s krypton gas-based propulsion system will be the first system in the world to power a tiny satellite. The digital receiver was developed by Elta and the guidance control system was developed at Israel Aerospace Industries MABAT plant in cooperation with researchers from the Technion.

In addition to the propulsion system, the satellites will accumulate energy through solar panels that will extend from the sides of each satellite and serve as wings that will control the flight formation without the use of fuel, by means of air resistance in the atmosphere.  Each of the nanosatellites will be equipped with a digital signal receiver, one of the most complex receivers ever designed for a nanosatellite. The satellite information processing system and the algorithms that control the formation will be the first of their kind in the world and will support the autonomous operation of several satellites together. The communications and navigation system will include two GPS receivers to be used for autonomous navigation and a communications system to be used by the three nanosatellites in order to communicate with one another and with the ground station – a significant challenge that has been solved in the current project. A dedicated frequency will be used for sending data to Earth via broadband.

“If we manage to prove in space that flying in formation is possible,” said Prof. Gurfil, “it will be a major boost for the development of small satellites and technologies related to the miniaturization of electronic components, for efficient space processing and for space propulsion systems. The technologies developed in the nanosatellites will contribute to a variety of civilian applications and will promote Israel’s aerospace industry.”

“Israeli technology is breaking new ground and demonstrating its innovativeness over and over again,” said Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis. “We are proud to be part of this flagship project, which represents a significant contribution to the advancement of Israeli aerospace and the training of students in this field.”

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