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UVigo SpaceLab and its Groundbreaking BIXO Mission: A Scientific Endeavor in Aerospace

Introduction

UVigo SpaceLab is an innovative student association at the University of Vigo, Spain, dedicated to the design, manufacture, and operation of small satellites. The team comprises students from various disciplines, including engineering, pure sciences, economics, and social sciences, from different campuses of the university. The primary aim of UVigo SpaceLab is to bridge the gap between theoretical knowledge and practical aerospace experience, thereby preparing students for future careers in the dynamic aerospace sector. Their latest project, the Bacteriological Intercommunication eXperiment in Orbit (BIXO) mission, is a 2U CubeSat satellite that exemplifies their commitment to education, investigation, and industry.

CubeSat StructureCommunication - Satellite Dish

But, what is the CubeSat Standard?

The CubeSat standard is a specification for small, standardized satellites that facilitates cost-effective access to space. Developed by California Polytechnic State University and Stanford University in 1999, the standard defines a cube-shaped satellite with dimensions of 10x10x10 centimetres and a mass of up to 2 kilograms per unit (1U). CubeSats can be modular, combining multiple units (e.g., 2U, 3U, 6U) to create larger satellites. This standardization simplifies the design, testing, and integration processes, allowing academic institutions, research organizations, and private companies to participate in space missions with lower financial and technical barriers.

Trajectory and Achievements of UVigo SpaceLab

Since its inception, UVigo SpaceLab has made significant strides in the aerospace sector, driven by a dedicated team and a commitment to excellence. The team's trajectory is marked by a series of notable achievements and recognitions that underscore their capability and innovation.

1. OLLO: An Open Access Orbital Telescopo: UVigo SpaceLab's OLLO project, an open access orbital telescope in a 3U CubeSat format, was awarded a prestigious workshop in Belgium. This recognition from the European Space Agency (ESA) highlighted the innovative nature of the project and the team's ability to develop cutting-edge space technology.

2. Galileo and Copernicus Masters Competitions: UVigo SpaceLab achieved significant success in the Galileo and Copernicus Masters competitions. The team emerged as regional winners in both contests and their proposal for the Copernicus Masters, titled CAMINITO, went on to win at the European level.

a. ADAGIO (Attitude Determination Augmentation using Galileo signal Intensity in Orbit) proposes to use Galileo GNSS for the calculation and redirection of nanosatellite orientation.

b. CAMINITO (CAMera based INfrastructure Integrity Tracking from Orbit) is a proposal where the images of the Copernicus constellation would be used for the management and care of the roads of the Camino de Santiago.

Mission BIXO: Overview

The BIXO mission represents UVigo SpaceLab's first foray into orbital experiments with living organisms. This 2U CubeSat mission is designed to study the effects of prolonged space exposure on bacterial cultures. By sending bacteria to orbit in microfluidic cards housed within a pressurized chamber, the mission aims to observe the population regulation mechanism Quorum Sensing (QS) using a spectrometer. Additionally, the CubeSat is equipped with a camera and an attitude control system featuring three magnetorquers, enabling precise orientation towards the ground station.

Mission BIXO - Bacterial Samples 1Mission BIXO - Bacterial Samples 2

Objectives and Significance

The BIXO mission aims to achieve several key objectives:

1. Study bacterial communication processes in a Low Earth Orbit (LEO) environment.

2. Study the effects of long-term storage of biological samples in space, during timeframes like those encountered during a transfer from Earth to Mars (about 9 months).

3. Develop and validate a small habitat suitable for microorganisms in space for biological experiments.

These objectives contribute to understanding space biology, particularly how microorganisms respond to the harsh conditions of space. The insights gained from BIXO could have implications for long-duration space missions, such as those to Mars, where maintaining viable biological samples is crucial.

Technical Aspects of BIXO

The BIXO CubeSat is designed according to the 2U CubeSat standard, integrating both the spacecraft platform and the payloads. Its architecture comprises four main components:

1. PC-104 Stack: This includes the primary subsystems like the TTC, OBC, EPS and a battery.

2. Interstage Board: An in-house developed module containing the secondary payload camera, ADCS magnetic actuators, a magnetometer, and an umbilical access point.

3. BIXO Payload: A metallic container housing optical instruments, a fluidic circuit, and electronic controls for the biological experiment.

4. Structure and Exterior Assembly: This includes a 1U-sized S-Band Patch Antenna and solar panels with sun sensors on all faces, optimizing energy collection and communication capabilities.

Mission Phases

The BIXO mission is structured into several phases to ensure the successful deployment and operation of the CubeSat:

1. Launch and Early Orbit Phase (LEOP): This initial phase involves deployment from the launcher, error checking, subsystem health monitoring, and establishing contact with the ground station.

2. Commissioning Phase: Comprehensive health checks are performed on all subsystems and payloads to verify functionality. This phase lasts approximately two weeks.

3. Main Science Phase: The biological experiment is conducted, with data collection divided into batches to study the effects of radiation over time. This phase is critical for achieving the mission's scientific objectives.

a. Delyophilization Sub-phase: Rehydration of the lyophilized bacterial samples and preparation for the experiment

b. Experiment Batch Sub-phase: Periodic monitoring and data collection from the bacterial samples.

c. Waiting Period Sub-phase: Data analysis and replication of conditions on the ground to optimize subsequent batches.

4. Technology Demonstration Phase: Post-science phase where the camera payload and internally developed subsystems are tested for performance and durability.

Impact and Innovation

UVigo SpaceLab's work extends beyond academic achievements. The hands-on experience provided by projects like BIXO prepares students for careers in the aerospace industry by exposing them to the latest trends and methodologies. Participation in international competitions and collaborations, such as the European Space Agency's (ESA) "Fly Your Satellite! Design Booster" program, enhances the students' profiles and offers networking opportunities with potential employers.

Moreover, UVigo SpaceLab's focus on miniaturized space missions and prototyping fosters a culture of innovation. By encouraging students to develop their own designs, the organization contributes to technological advancements in aerospace, showcasing the potential of small, cost-effective spacecraft.

UVigo SpaceLab CubeSatUVigo SpaceLab Equipment

Conclusion

The BIXO mission by UVigo SpaceLab represents a significant step forward in student-led aerospace research and innovation. By studying bacterial communication in space, the mission not only advances scientific knowledge but also prepares the next generation of aerospace professionals. UVigo SpaceLab's dedication to education, investigation, and industry ensures that their students are well-equipped to meet the challenges of the rapidly evolving aerospace sector.

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