OUFTI-1: nearly ready for space!

Within eighteen months, amateur radio ("ham") operators should be able to use a Liège 'CubeSat' for their digital communications and connections. This experimental relay in orbit around the Earth has been named OUFTI-1. A popular French term used in Liège, 'oufti' expresses an exclamation mixed with surprise. In the present context, it is also an acronym for "Orbital Utility for Telecommunication Innovations". The nano-satellite is a higher education teaching tool supervised by professors, and it is the result of the work of students, engineers, and researchers at the University of Liège and some of the Liège technical engineering schools ("Hautes Ecoles").

CubeSat StructureThe final assembly of OUFTI-1 took place  in the ultra-clean environment of the Centre Spatial de Liège (CSL), near the Focal simulators. The nanosatellite  consists of a cube of 10 cm on a side (thus 1 liter) covered in solar panels. It can fit in the palm of the hand, weighs a little more than a box of sugar cubes (mass of about 1kg) and consumes as much electrical power as an electric clock (power 1W). Its complex "birth" - the assembly and integration of its miniaturised components - took place in the expert hands and under the close supervision of five 'midwives': Professors Gaëtan Kerschen (LTAS/University of Liège) and Jacques Verly (INTELSIG/Montefiore Institute/University of Liège), and engineers Valery Broun (lecturer at ISIL), Nicolas Crosset, and Xavier Werner (INTELSIG/Montefiore Institute). Amandine Denis (Department of Aerospace and Mechanics/ULg) telemonitored the operations from Singapore! Jonathan Pisane, who played a crucial role in the development of the first Belgian nanosatellite. 

Wallonia, CubeSat-style

Over the past decade, a community has been developing around the world incorporating student teams who are involved in creating miniaturised space systems. The goal of this community is to approach space - a hostile and difficult-to-access environment - at as low a cost as possible, through teamwork and masters thesis. The 'CubeSat' standard responds to this educational challenge. It refers to a concept that was instigated in the 1990s by Professor Bob Twiggs from Calpoly (California Polytechnic State University) at San Luis Obispo, CA, and at Stanford University, both located in California. He demonstrated that the CubeSat concept was effective as an educational tool, and the concept then spread progressively around the world.

Various 'CubeSat' modules exist for low-cost scientific and technological missions. Today, nanosatellite missions are a global phenomenon, and there are more than 200 nanosatellites in orbit. This has enabled countries to take their first steps into space: in Europe, this is the case of Denmark, Norway, Switzerland, Estonia, Poland, Hungary, Romania, and Austria, and, in Latin America, of Ecuador. OUFTI-1 will be a space 'first' for Belgium, thanks to Liège and Wallonia! The Liège 'CubeSat' is really here and it's nearly ready to go into orbit. The first test on it conducted by ESA experts was a success. This bodes well for its planned launch in early 2015.

In the spring of 2013, ESA launched the new "Fly You Satellite! (FYS)" program, looking for CubeSats at an advanced state of development. The ULg's OUFTI-1 emerged as one of the winners together with four other projects from Europe and one from Canada. Specifications, voluminous documentation (including an integration procedure), and an instruction manual had to be provided in a short period of time, and a flight model had to be provided in the same way as for 'big' satellites. The integration of OUFTI-1 was completed on 24 October 2013. A fully assembled OUFTI-1 was presented on 6 November to the ESA examiners as part of a first Test Readiness Review (TRR), which opens the way to extensive testing, first  in ambient conditions at CSL-ULg, and then in space conditions (in vacuum and extreme temperatures) at ESA's European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC) in Noordwijk (The Netherlands). The TRR consists of seeing whether the quality and performance of the ULg's CubeSat meets the strict ESA and FYS requirements. The examiners made recommendations to guarantee the reliability of the nanosatellite.

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