Aalto-1 (right) and Aalto-2 pictured together in Otaniemi and ready to start their journey. Photo: Antti Kestilä / Aalto University
The Aalto-2 satellite, designed and built by students, is ready and waiting to be launched inside the Cygnus space shuttle at the Cape Canaveral Space Launch Complex in the US. In the near future, the shuttle will be launched with an Atlas V booster rocket up to the orbiting international space station, where the astronauts will release it later to orbit independently.
Aalto-2 will take part in the international QB50 Mission, the aim of which is to produce the first ever comprehensive model of the features of the thermosphere, the layer between the Earth's atmosphere and space. Dozens of satellites constructed in different countries will also be part of the mission. Because Aalto-2 is part of a larger project, it will be registered in Belgium in the same way as the project’s other satellites in order to simplify the permit procedures.
‘The shuttle’s journey to the space station will take around three days, and the satellite will be released from there into space within a few months of the shuttle’s arrival. The precise release date for Aalto-2 will be confirmed later, as the releasing of the satellites is carried out alongside the stations other activities,’ said Professor and project leader Jaan Praks.
Construction of the Aalto-2 satellite began in 2012 as a doctoral project when the first students graduated as Masters of Science in Technology after working on the Aalto-1 project.
'Aalto-2 will be carrying the multi-Needle Langmuir Probe (mNLP) payload developed at the University of Oslo for the measurement of plasma characteristics. Our team's primary goal will be to demonstrate how well the satellite platform designed and built at Aalto University functions in the challenging conditions of space,' explained Aalto doctoral candidate Tuomas Tikka, one of the founders of the Reaktor Space Lab.
Earth station prepares to receive satellite data
The information sent by the Aalto-2 satellite will be received by the earth station in Otaniemi.
‘The Aalto-2 satellite’s orbit is close to the equator, so the satellite can only be occasionally in contact with Otaniemi. The mission will make use of several earth stations,’ Mr Tikka said.
At the same time, the earth station is preparing to be in contact also with the Aalto-1 satellite, which currently looks set to start its journey in a few months’ time and will be orbiting directly over Finland. Aalto University signed Finland’s first ever satellite launch agreement already back in Spring 2015. Since then, the launch timetable for SpaceX’s Falcon 9 space shuttle, which will be transporting the Aalto-1 satellite, has been delayed several times for varying reasons.
‘Small missions have been in an especially weak position; the complex SHERPA joint launch, for example, still hasn’t obtained a secure place in the launch timetable. For this reason, we have continued in the background negotiations with our launch service broker Innovative Solutions in Space regarding alternative launch options. Now we have finally found a solution, and the Aalto-1 launch will hopefully take place without a few months using the Indian PSLV space shuttle. Aalto-1 may therefore make it into space and into its own orbit before the Aalto-2 satellite is released,’ Mr Praks explained.
Aalto-1 will be transported to India in a month’s time from Holland, where it has been awaiting its journey in Innovative Solutions in Space’s clean room. The launch will take place at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre, located on the island of Sriharikota on the eastern coast of the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.
Aalto’s nanosatellite program has accelerated Finland’s space sector
Since the start of the Aalto-1 project in 2010 and the Aalto-2 project two years later, around a hundred new professionals have been trained in the space sector. The impact is already visible in the growth of space sector start-up companies.
‘Finland is entering the space age in many different ways. We can already talk to students about the ongoing Aalto space programme, which has plenty of room for creativity and ideas. The European Space Agency (ESA) has also noticed the new wave of space technology in Finland and is setting up a Business Incubator Centre (BIC) in Finland to accelerate the rise of innovation in this field,’ explains Mr Praks.
Further information about satellite projects (spacecraft.aalto.fi)
Further information about launch of Aalto-1 satellite (aalto1.fi)
Professor, project leader
tel. +358 (0)50 420 5847
CEO, Reaktor Space Lab
Aalto-2 doctoral candidate
tel. +358 (0)50 436 9119
News edited 23.3.2017: NASA, Orbital ATK and United Launch Alliance (ULA) have postponed Orbital ATK’s seventh commercial resupply services mission to the International Space Station. New launch date will be determined later.
News edited 20.3.2017: Currently information coming from Florida, Aalto-2 satellite will be launched on 25 March early Morning Finnish time.
News edited 15.3.2017: Currently information coming from Florida, Aalto-2 satellite will be launched on 22 March early morning Finnish time, no 20 March as originally estimated.