Sapienza Space Systems and Space Surveillance Laboratory


Alice Pellegrino1

1Sapienza – University of Rome, Department of Mechanical&Aerospace Engineering (DIMA), Italy

Point of Contact: Fabio Santoni

Keyword: space systems, small satellites, space debris observation, active debris removal, attitude control systems.

Sapienza Space Systems and Space Surveillance Laboratory (S5Lab) is a laboratory of Sapienza – University of Rome, supervised by prof. Fabio Santoni and prof. Fabrizio Piergentili. The main research activities are in satellite systems design, including on-board systems and sub-systems, and space surveillance systems, including optical observation systems design and operations, data analysis, orbiting objects’ orbital determination and active debris removal systems. The S5Lab Team is composed by students at different levels, including PhD, Master’s and Bachelor’s degree, with different backgrounds, mainly aerospace engineers, of Sapienza – University of Rome. Many of them are involved in different laboratory activities, like education and research programs, international contests and competitions.

The on-going space related research and educational activities of the S5Lab include:

  • Participation in the QB50 project, a space science project lead by the Von Karman Institute (VKI) in Belgium that aims to investigate the lower Thermosphere properties by in-situ measurements with 50 CubeSats. In the framework of QB50, S5Lab develops the 3U CubeSat URSA MAIOR (University of Rome la SApienza Micro Attitude In ORbit testing), carrying the mNLP (multi-Needle Langmuir Probes) science unit designed by the University of Oslo (UiO). URSA MAIOR has been selected to board an Attitude Control Unit system developed by University of Surrey. The experimental micropropulsion system MEMIT developed at La Sapienza and funded by ASI (Italian Space Agency) is installed on-board as a technological experiment. In the framework of a cooperation established by S5Lab with Space Mind – New Production Concepts (NPC) – an experimental drag sail has been developed and will be tested as deorbiting system.
  • Participation in the FOAM project for the development of a polyurethane foam system for active debris removal, under Aviospace-AIRBUS contract. S5Lab is responsible for the foam ground testing and for the study of foam formation system in orbit from the on-board stored reagents. A cooperation with the Sapienza Laboratory SASLab – Scientific Aerospace Solution Laboratory – has been established for the foam characterization and mechanical testing on ground.
  • Full responsibility for the development of the programme EQUO – EQUatorial Italian Observatory – under ASI contract for the establishment of an equatorial observatory settled at the Broglio Space Center in Malindi, Kenya, to develop research activity and to support the Italian space debris monitoring capability.
  • Participation in all of the space debris observation campaigns of the IADC – Inter Agency space Debris Committee. S5Lab owns and operates dedicated observatories located in Italy and develops its own algorithms for data reduction, orbit determination and space debris attitude motion reconstruction. A cooperation has been established with the Loiano astronomical observatory, close to Bologna, for spectrometric analyses of orbiting objects in GEO.
  • Development of miniaturized systems for nanosatellite application mainly focused on attitude determination and control systems. A fully instrumented testing facility for ground testing of satellite attitude determination and control system is available at the S5Lab, including a frictionless spherical air bearing, a 3D Helmholtz coil system for the emulation of the magnetic field in orbit, an instrumented platform based on a three axis magnetometer, an IMU and camera system.
  • Cooperation with IMT, a SME active in space systems and components, for the development of a deployable and orientable solar panel system for CubeSats. A prototype of the system has been developed for ground testing.
  • Participation in CanSat Competition, an annual student design-build-launch competition for space-related topics, organized by The American Astronautical Society (AAS) and American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA). Students by S5Lab participate to this competition with the Sapienza Space Team, supported by SASA Sapienza Aerospace Student Association. The 2015 mission simulates a Science Vehicle traveling through a planetary atmosphere sampling the atmospheric composition during descent.
  • Participation in REXUS/BEXUS campaigns – Rocket&Baloon Experiments for University Students – a DLR-SNSB-ESA education programme with several experiments focused on on-board sensor systems for attitude determination and microgravity experiments related to polyurethane foams formation in vacuum.
  • Participation at the Pre-4th Mission Idea Contest (Pre-MIC4) Workshop with “HORUS constellation”, aimed at a better quantification of the atmosphere state and land surface properties through a multi-angle capability with a high revisit sampling. The constellation is based on a “CAST of FALCONS” and is composed by four 3U CubeSats, placed into Sun Synchronous Orbits. The S5Lab team receives scientific and technical support by two ESRIN (ESA) experts.

The S5Lab supports the “Space Systems Laboratory course” offered during the third year of the Bachelor’s Degree in Aerospace Engineering at Sapienza. The main goal is to give theoretical basis, techniques and instruments to realize infrastructures and to design and verify space systems. In particular, in these months, three student teams are developing three projects: the realization of a thermal regulation system for the S5Lab’s vacuum chamber, the design, realization and testing of an autonomous quad-copter and the optimization of an observatory for space debris observations. Several students from the Bachelor’s course of Aerospace Engineering at Sapienza are currently bound to study the effects of space environment on different types of sensitive materials and structures for their final theses due to the collaboration between S5Lab and SASLab. For instance, different type of Foams are currently under examination in the SASLab in order to test the effect on these samples of a simulated environment similar to Low Earth Orbits one.

S5Lab aims at enhancing the students’ understanding of concepts by means of practical work and challenging activities in order to improve their skills and problem solving abilities and their interest and motivation. During 2015, the collaboration between “Sapienza – University of Rome” and “University of Bologna” is allowing Italy to join UNISEC – Global international cooperative body. This will improve the connections with Universities around the world, increasing Italian participation to international educational projects. It is a unique opportunity to share experiences and to join one of the essential features in space field: the international cooperation to achieve goals.