Ecole Polytechnique: The Student Space Center at the International Astronautical Congress

Every year since 2011, the Student Space Center has enabled more than forty students in the 2nd and 3rd years of the Polytechnique engineering cycle to propose and carry out their projects in systems and space engineering. This year, two collective scientific projects (PSC) dealing respectively with a nanosatellite (ie a miniature satellite) and the reuse of rocket boosters have been selected to be presented at the 72nd edition of the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Dubai, UAE, from 25 to 29 October.
Thrust for satellites
The first project, called ‘IonSat’, seeks to develop, with the support of engineers from CNES and Thales Alenia Space, a nanosatellite capable of maintaining itself in very low orbit (300km altitude). Lightweight satellites are a major challenge today, as shown by the constellation launched by SpaceX, whose satellites are 10 times lighter than the average. At low orbits, better performance (especially for Earth observation) is possible, but the atmosphere causes increased friction and a loss of altitude for the satellites, reducing their flight time and therefore their life. The objective of IonSat is to maintain the orbit of the nanosatellite by compensating for the loss of speed thanks to an engine donated to the students by the startup ThrustMe (from the LPP).
Controlled landings

“Back on Earth”, the second project to be presented at IAC, seeks to control the vertical landing of rocket boosters using electric propeller motors. Braking a landing with a motor is a delicate balancing and control exercise, as a single imbalance can change the direction and cause the operation to fail. To date, only SpaceX and Blue Origin have successfully met the economic and technical challenge of landing rockets for reuse. This project, supported by MBDA engineers who are making their expertise available to the students, seeks to replicate this with other, less costly methods. The use of a simple engine allows the project to focus on the trajectory control part, which is currently the most important obstacle.

The Centre’s projects, which are rich in interactions with industrial players, are supervised by the ‘Space Science and Challenges’ Chair, supported by Thales Alenia Space and ArianeGroup and headed by Pascal Chabert, CNRS research director at the Plasma Physics Laboratory (LPP *) . They are taken up year after year by different groups of students, and the two projects that will be presented at IAC 2021 were each started more than three years ago.


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