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ESA's OPS-SAT CubeSat Mission Concludes
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ESA's OPS-SAT CubeSat Mission Concludes
by Erica Marchand
Paris, France (SPX) Jun 05, 2024

ESA's experimental OPS-SAT CubeSat mission ended on the night of May 22-23, 2024 (CEST).

Launched on December 18, 2019, OPS-SAT aimed to make spacecraft operations accessible to a wide audience, offering a fast, free, and non-bureaucratic experiment service for European and Canadian industry and academia.

The mission involved experimenters from companies, universities, and public institutions across Europe and beyond, integrating them into ESA's ESOC mission control centre to test new ideas in orbit.

OPS-SAT, equipped with ESA's most capable and flexible onboard computer, demonstrated the potential of future satellites with more advanced equipment.

An Open In-Orbit Laboratory
OPS-SAT was ESA's first fully owned and operated CubeSat, marking a departure from the agency's typical focus on large and complex spacecraft. Over four and a half years in orbit, OPS-SAT enabled 134 teams from 26 countries to conduct 284 experiments.

"Many experiments built on top of one another, and so the satellite became even more capable as time went on," said David Evans, OPS-SAT Space Lab Manager at ESA. "OPS-SAT was a research lab: innovations and improvements made by one experiment could often be harnessed by others. If one team worked out a better way to operate the spacecraft's camera, the next could use that to improve their new artificial intelligence algorithm for image processing, for example."

OPS-SAT was the first satellite available for public use, hosting experiments on AI and interplanetary internet, and testing new software, some of which is now in use by larger missions. Notably, it conducted a stock market trade in orbit, supported search and rescue activities, demonstrated an active cybersecurity attack, and more.

In 2023, OPS-SAT received international recognition when its team shared the SpaceOps Outstanding Achievement award with the team behind NASA JPL's Ingenuity Mars helicopter.

Final Experiments
OPS-SAT was affected by an unexpected increase in solar activity in early 2024, causing increased drag and an early descent into the atmosphere. ESA teams and experimenters worked intensively to maintain communication and complete final experiments.

The University of Oxford, University of Stuttgart, and others successfully concluded experiments in the mission's last days, with Hellenic Aerospace Industry (HAI) finishing the final experiment just 24 hours before contact was lost.

"As the satellite descended through the atmosphere, it became much harder to control. The OPS-SAT Mission Control Team and the teams from our experimenters all worked long hours to close out as many of the remaining experiments as possible before the end," said Evans.

The mission's reentry provided a rare chance to gather data on spacecraft behavior in the lower atmosphere. With the help of the global radio amateur community, the OPS-SAT team collected telemetry from receivers worldwide, offering new insights into satellite reentry dynamics.

Future Missions Inspired by OPS-SAT
The OPS-SAT concept proved successful, leading to plans for future missions under the OPS-SAT name. These include OPS-SAT VOLT, focused on testing optical and quantum communication technologies, and other proposed missions such as OPS-SAT ORIOLE and CYBERCUBE.

The OPS-SAT Space Lab service will continue to facilitate collaboration between ESA, industry, and universities, fostering innovation in space technology.

Related Links
Microsat News and Nanosat News at SpaceMart.com

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