Western Australia’s first Binar spacecraft returned to Earth like a fireball. This is what we learned

This weekend was a milestone for Western Australia Binary Space Program as its first satellite Binar-1 lived up to its name.

Binar is the word for “fireball” in the Noongar language spoken by the Aborigines of Perth. Binar-1 became a true “Binar” when it re-entered Earth’s atmosphere this weekend. Although it was unlikely to be seen over Australia, with the right amount of luck it would have appeared in the night sky like a shooting star.

Binar-1 was built by a team of PhD students and engineers from Curtin University’s Center for Space Science and Technology. Its mission: a technology demonstration to test whether the innovative design – all systems integrated on a single printed circuit board in the core – would survive in space.

Although parts of the mission are not full successthanks to some last-minute design changes, that goal was achieved.

A small air cube

Binar-1 is a 1U format CubeZat, meaning it was only 10 inches wide, about the size of a lunch box. Don’t let the size fool you: the satellite was packed with microelectronics to optimize its volume for countless future scientific and educational missions.

It was launched to the International Space Station on August 29, 2021 aboard a SpaceX resupply mission and deployed from the station’s Kibō module.

Members of the Binar Space Program watch the live-streamed deployment of Binar-1 last October. Photo: Cam Campbell/@placeorpoint

Five key takeaways from Binar-1

Lock high level mission objectives at the start

From the start of the mission, the team struggled to understand what was achievable with the time and money available. This cost us precious time, because every time we defined a new objective, redesigns were necessary. Once we realized that a technology demonstration was our real target, we were able to nail what we were trying to deliver.

Be prepared for delays

Having a plan for delays allows us to be more agile when it comes to tight launch deadlines. With Binar-1, we assumed our testing schedule would stick to the timeline, but this was never likely.

For our next launch, we’ve prioritized which tests we know are essential and which tests to drop so we can make better choices when it’s time to meet our deadlines.

One of the challenges we faced was testing our designs in a way that replicated the satellite’s behavior in space. It may seem like an obvious lesson, but using the antennas to test your satellite systems instead of that handy USB port you designed it with makes all the difference.

Prepare for use during the design process

You can’t learn this lesson without actually flying the satellite – but we certainly weren’t as prepared as we could have been for operations.

The number of adjustments to the ground station and the command and control processes when our satellite was already flying made it clear that involving the operation plan at an early stage prepares you for the success of a mission.

Remove as many assumptions as you can

A few too many assumptions were made in the design, which certainly affected the assembly and testing of Binar-1. For example, we assumed that the radio module we tested on the ground worked the same as the module we sent to space, but it didn’t, leading to some frantic last-minute changes that eventually led to we didn’t get the pictures. or data we were hoping for from orbit.

Our future missions require all assumptions to be vetted throughout the team to minimize the impact they can have on a mission if the assumptions are inaccurate.

Install the payload of the star tracker camera in Binar-1. The star tracker was designed and developed by students at Curtin University. An improved version flies on Binar-2, 3 and 4. Photo: Curtin University

Continue with the mission

The Binar Space Program and the Space Science and Technology Center are now preparing for their first real science mission. Aboard our three CubeSats, a radiation material test will be conducted in conjunction with the CSIRO, a software experiment that allows the spacecraft to make decisions on its own, and a few others designed by undergraduate students at the university.

But the mission’s last bit of science won’t come until it, too, comes to its fiery end – it’s our own shooting star capture attempt, a tracking system to identify exactly when each of the next spacecraft will turn into a binar. .

Our current spacecraft burn down before they reach the ground, but eventually we hope to bring one of our satellites back to Earth in one piece, and this tracking system is just one of many small steps toward this huge goal. If you want to follow these fireballs in the future and catch them with your own eyes, read more on the Binar Space Program website.The conversation

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