Journey of the first Lithuanian satellites


In late 2013, the first Lithuanian satellites Lituanica SAT-1 and LitSat-1 were launched into space. The creators of the satellites dedicate their missions to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the flight of the legendary pilots S. Darius and S. Girėnas across the Atlantic Ocean. This historical event will have an important symbolic meaning, and will open the possibilities for unique space experiments and promote the development of high technologies in Lithuania.

Lithuanian satellites in space

Some twenty years ago we couldn’t even dream of Lithuania creating its own satellites, but modern miniaturising of electronics and information systems enables even small countries to independently participate in the space programmes. The potential of Lithuanian scientists and engineers in this sphere is also testified by the construction of nano-satelites (small satellites of CubeSat standard) by two different Lithuanian teams at the same time. It is planned that in December 2013, both satellites will be launched into space from the USA Wallops Island by the launch vehicle Antares developed by the Orbital Sciences Corporation and deliver by Cygnus resupply spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS) and from there will be launched by astronauts into their own orbits around the Earth.

The activity of designing technologies of nano-satellites and unmanned spacecraft of different designations (aircraft, spaceships, ground robots) is highly promising for science and business. “The enormous innovation potential inherent in the development of nanosatellite technologies is of particular relevance to Lithuania. It will increase the opportunities for application of achievements of the Lithuanian scientists in the market and facilitate the development of new and marketable products, technologies and services.

Concurrently, the return on investments in scientific research and competitiveness of high technology industry of Lithuania will grow, and the possibility to participate in space programmes will encourage youth to choose physical, technological and mathematical sciences which are in great demand in the Lithuanian economy”, – noted Marius Skarupskas, the Vice Minister of Economy.

As soon as the first satellites are launched, Lithuania will formally become a space faring nation and will also send a message regarding its ability to independently create spacecraft and participate in the development of modern space technologies.

Space technologies are being widely used and have become an inseparable part of our everyday life. Spacerelated activities undoubtedly generate economic benefits, because they create high value added products and services, e.g., in the fields of satellite navigation, Earth observation and satellite communications. Space activities have a huge innovation potential, which promotes the use of technologies designated for space in other sectors and a business of high added value services.

One idea – two projects
The history of the creation of the satellites started after the first visit of representatives of the Lithuanian Space Association to NASA’s Ames Research Centre in 2009, which was followed by the subsequent visits of the Lithuanian managers and specialists to this Centre and their internships. NASA specialists were surprised by the skills and achievements of the Lithuanian scientists and engineers. They engaged in joint projects. Last year the idea emerged – Lithuanian scientists and engineers with the help of NASA specialists will create and launch the first nano-satellite in one year, which will enable the Lithuanian designers to acquire skills of creation of nano-satellites and prepare for the future joint missions of nano-satellites. One of such missions – the Project “QB50” of the EU’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) envisaging the launch of 50 nanosatellites of the EU Member States by one rocket in 2015. Two Lithuanian teams are also participating in this project, i.e. two out of the fifty satellites will be from Lithuania.

At the beginning of this year, the team of designers of the first Lithuanian satellite split into two groups intending to try their own conceptions of creation of nano-satellites. It was arranged with the USA’s NANORACKS LLC Company, which intermediates for Lithuania in guaranteeing the delivery of nanosatellites to the ISS by NASA’s resupply spacecraft, that Lithuanians will send two satellites instead of one to the ISS. What is interesting about this is that this rivalry of the satellite designers developed into the competition between two universities: Kaunas University of Technology (KTU) and Vilnius University (VU), both of which have actively joined the two projects. It took a very short period to create both nano-satellites – about one year: one satellite, the construction of which started in summer 2012, later, in October 2013, developed into two different Lithuanians satellites to be launched into space on 8 December 2013.

In the opinion of the Ministry of Economy, which is in charge of the space policy in Lithuania, the principal direction of activities of the emerging national space sector could be the development of remote observation robotic technologies and their application in space and other sectors. For the development of these technologies Lithuania can successfully use international achievements of its scientists and engineers in the spheres of microelectronics, mechatronics, new materials, laser technologies and biotechnologies. Experience gained in creating nano-satellites can be of use in developing robotic technologies, because a nano-satellite essentially is a very complex and reliable robot, which after its launch into space can neither be repaired nor charged. Therefore the creation of nano-satellites requires high scientific and technological competence and special skills. The two created Lithuanian satellites “LitSat-1” and “Lituanica SAT-1” not yet launched into space already testify excellent abilities of the Lithuanian scientists and engineers.

“LitSat-1”: “Mission Lituanica 80”
The satellite “LitSat-1” was created by the Space Science and Technology Institute established by the Lithuanian Space Association (LSA) and KTU. The purposes of the flight of this satellite: to construct and test the platform of the Lithuanian satellite and to prepare for the creation of the space orientation technologies and their use in nano-satellites. To commemorate the 80th anniversary of the flight of S. Darius and S. Girėnas across the Atlantic Ocean, the satellite project was given the name of “Mission Lituanica 80”.

According to the LSA Director Vidmantas Tomkus, “Mission Lituanica 80” is the first stage of the long-term space technology programme implemented by KTU and LSA: “The nano-satellite “LitSat-1” is a prototype of the future satellite planned to be launched in 2015. By launching “LitSat-1” we want to test the main nanosatellite systems, and in 2015 we are planning to test piezo equipment in space for the first time – this is necessary in order to achieve a precise orientation of satellites in space.”

During the maiden flight of “LitSat-1” the standard satellite systems, i.e. necessary in each CubeSat type satellite, with the unique solutions of the Lithuanian designers among them, such as the integrated satellite navigation receiver, not yet tested in the nano-satellites, satellite’s motherboard designed and manufactured in Lithuania and controlled by unique software, solar cells of two types assembled in Lithuania, will be tested. To make a contact with a satellite and to receive telemetric data the satellite telecommunication teleport of nanosatellites established in Liepiškės Technology Park (Vilnius District) will be used.

To stimulate grater interest of people of Lithuania in the first Lithuanian satellites, designers of “LitSat-1” invited society to suggest three words dearest to them and to Lithuania to be broadcasted from this satellite. It appeared, that Lithuanian people prefer hearing from space the names of the legendary “Lituanica” and its pilots, also such joyful patriotic slogans as “I love Lithuania”, “We are in space”, “Lithuania greets the world”, compliments to their native city, names of family members, and some of them even dream about declaring their love.

“LituanicaSAT -1”: platform for future experiments
The project “LituanicaSAT-1” is a good example of how space technologies are capable of attracting and mobilising young people to engage in the engineering projects. Students and young specialists account for a considerable part of the team comprising researchers and engineers from VU, public enterprise Inovatyvūs inžineriniai projektai, other institutions and enterprises.

“The idea to create the nano-satellite “Lituanica SAT-1” emerged in 2012 during the internship at NASA’s Ames Research Centre, having discussed this matter with the representatives of NANORACKS LLC. More than 80% of equipment of our satellite is manufactured in Lithuania. The satellite will be flying around the Earth for more than 6 months and will perform different experiments in space”, – said Laurynas Mačiulis, the Technical Manager of the Project “Lituanica SAT-1”.

By its maiden flight “Lituanica SAT-1” will not only commemorate the great deed of Darius and Girėnas, but will also test different technologies created by Lithuanians. “We will observe the operation of the monocrystalline silicon solar elements manufactured by the Lithuanian enterprise PrecizikaMET SC. We will test the radio communication system created by the Lithuanian radio amateurs – a unique voice repeater not yet tested in CubeSat type satellites. Also, we will assess the dual-processor satellite control system, software and data encryption protocol ensuring distance online control and will analyse the functioning of the inert-magnetic switch which has not been tested in space yet and which interests NASA”, – said L. Mačiulis.

The team of “Lituanica SAT-1”, having gained experience and know-how after the maiden flight of its nano-satellite, is also planning other projects aimed at developing unique technical solutions. One of the planned works is creation of the orbital manoeuvring system under the “QB50” Project of the EU’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7). For the purpose of achieving this goal, the team of “Lituanica SAT-1” envisages launching one more nano-satellite in 2015.

Future plans
After testing the first nano-satellites in space, their authors are not going to rest on laurels and are already planning how to apply the achieved results in new scientific research. The teams envisage continuing cooperation with NASA and are preparing for mission of the EU’s Project “QB50” in 2015.

According to Domantas Bručas, the Technical Manager of the Project of “LitSat-1” and Director of the Space Science and Technology Institute of LSA, the core idea of the experiment envisaged for 2015 by the team led by him is to construct a piezo engine and test the nano-satellite orientation system of a new type in space. If the experiment is a success, it will facilitate the future control of nano-satellites in space and will considerably reduce their production costs, concurrently opening access for technologies created by Lithuanians to nanosatellite programmes of other countries.

The team of “Lituanica SAT-1”, having acquired experience and know-how after the space flight of their first nano-satellite, is also planning other projects aimed at the development of unique technical solutions. One of such planned works is the orbital manoeuvring system created under the Project “QB50” using the original rocket engine.

Combining the two technologies of precise orientation and manoeuvring new qualities will be added to nano-satellites thanks to which it will be possible to use them as cleaners of space debris and for many more functions of large modern satellites: to observe the Earth, ensure the communication, etc. This is of particular relevance seeking to adapt nanosatellites for the performance of practical tasks and for business as soon as possible.

The miniaturised satellite “LitSat-1” is a prototype of the future satellite planned to be launched in 2015

* Structure of the Lithuanian satellites – “CubeSat” model
The Lithuanian mini satellites “Lituanica SA T-1” and “LitSat-1” have been designed on the basis of the unified conception of the nanosatellite module CubeSat introduced in 1999 by R. Twiggs, professor of Stanford University, USA, which in addition to the technical standard of CubeSat, also defines the design, launch and use of these satellites.

Standardised CubeSat module parameters:
• Side – 10 cm
• Capacity – about 1 l
• Mass – max 1.33 kg
Standard equipment:
• Motherboard with microcomputer
• Power source
• Orientation and stabilisation system
• Communications equipment
• Research or pilot technological equipment (payload)

* More than 80% of equipment of satellite “LituanicaSAT-1” is manufactured in Lithuania