Bulgarian start-ups make CubeSats, Quantum Physics Experiment in Space
Space scientist Raycho Raychev’s three-year-old start-up, EnduroSat, aims to make miniature satellites available at affordable prices to universities, research institutes and commercial users. “There’s an unprecedented number of applications for our modules — from ship and truck tracking and navigation to astronomy, astrophysics and pharmacology,” he says.
EnduroSat has received seed capital from a venture capital fund, followed by EU funding to provide more than 100 EnduroSat modules and online educational tools to selected European schools.
Its cheapest module, a 10cm-cubed “CubeSat” complete with miniature solar panels and retractable communications antennas, was designed by an in-house team and manufactured locally. EnduroSat satellites sell for €35,000-€65,000, compared to €100m for a conventional 3,000kg satellite.
Bee Smart Technologies
Sergey Petrov and his team at Bee Smart Technologies have an ecologist’s sense of mission about their award-winning start-up: a remote beehive management system that uses algorithms to collect data on health and productivity in honeybee communities.
“Bees are nature’s most important reproductive mechanism through pollination but they’re rapidly disappearing . . . and I wanted to work on solving this problem,” says Mr Petrov, an engineer and beekeeper who took a technology course in Silicon Valley before setting up Bee Smart with backing from angel investors.
“Our technology can help, for example, by alerting beekeepers to an infestation in one hive so they can prevent the disease from spreading.”
The Beebot, an in-hive sensor-based system, monitors temperature and humidity while also analysing sounds inside the hive. Another device, the HiHive, uses a wireless scale to track weight change, indicating bee health.
Highlighted in a 2016 report by consultants Deloitte as the fastest-growing technology company in Bulgaria, BulPros has 1,200 employees in 17 locations across six countries, including 300 in Germany and 100 in Poland. Founded by Ivaylo Slavov, who spent 18 years in Germany studying and working, the company was among the first in Bulgaria to offer business process outsourcing to multinationals shifting back-office operations abroad in order to cut costs.
Outsourcing remains important but BulPros also focuses on enterprise mobility, big data and cloud-based services. It has come up with its own products sold on global markets, including Staffico, a human resources programme, and Jabborate, for real-time communications.
Closing out a three-day chase from a launch pad in Virginia, Orbital ATK’s Cygnus cargo freighter arrived Thursday at the International Space Station with nearly 7,400 pounds of equipment, delivering food, a quantum physics experiment, and CubeSats for later deployment in orbit.
During its nearly two-month mission, known as OA-9, the Cygnus spacecraft will slightly raise the altitude of the outpost, making it the first U.S. vehicle to reboost the station’s orbit since the retirement of the space shuttle.
The automated supply ship approached the station from below Thursday, aiming laser ranging sensors to track the craft’s distance and closure rate with the orbiting research lab.
After pausing at pre-planned hold points, the Cygnus spacecraft stopped its approach around 30 feet, or 10 meters, below the space station, and astronaut Scott Tingle took control of the lab’s Canadian-built robotic arm to capture the supply ship at 5:26 a.m. EDT (0926 GMT).
Tingle grasped the spacecraft with the robot arm as the space station sailed 264 miles (425 kilometers) over the southern Indian Ocean.
Tingle handed over control of the robot arm to engineers on the ground, who maneuvered the Cygnus spacecraft into position on the Earth-facing berthing port on the space station’s Unity module. Sixteen bolts closed to firmly attach the cargo freighter to the Unity module at 8:13 a.m. EDT (1213 GMT), clearing the way for pressure leak checks before the station crew opens hatches leading into the supply ship later Thursday.
The astronauts will unpack 7,205 pounds (3,268 kilograms) of provisions, experiments and other hardware loaded inside the Cygnus spacecraft’s Italian-built pressurized compartment, and replace the cargo with trash for disposal at the end of the Cygnus mission.
Another science experiment carried by Cygnus will study the solidification of cement in microgravity.
“We are looking into colonizing space,” said Aleksandra Radlinska, principal investigator for the cement experiment from Penn State University. “We want to go to the moon and deep space beyond, and we will need shelters for the human missions. We will need to protect equipment from radiation effects and impacts that these could experience.”
Concrete could be a “go-to” material to build such shelters, she said.
“In our research, we actually look into how cement reacts with water, and how this very complex process of microstructure formation happens in space,” Radlinska said.
Despite the prolific use of concrete, the process of solidification when mixing cement and water “has been fascinating scientists for the last 50 years,” she said. “And for the last 50 years, despite the current technology and instrumentation that we have, we still don’t understand that process completely.”
Radlinska’s team sent up multiple pouches with cement and water for astronauts to mix on the space station. The samples will come back to Earth for comparison with the results obtained from similar pouches mixed on the ground, according to Juliana Neves, a graduate researcher on the experiment at Penn State.
The investigation will ultimately help address two questions, Radlinska said: “How can we use it more sustainably on Earth, and how can we make usage of raw materials present in space and make a concrete-like cement binder in space?”
A commercially-developed device launched aboard the Cygnus mission will test a method of separating liquids in microgravity for Zaiput Flow Technologies, a Massachusetts-based company. The mechanism will use surface tension, instead of gravity as used on Earth, to separate water from an organic solvent, demonstrating a method that could be employed by future expeditions synthesizing chemicals in space or on another planet to produce water and rocket fuel.
The Cygnus supply ship also delivered equipment for astronauts to install outside the space station on a spacewalk scheduled for June 14. The Cygnus also demonstrated during Thursday’s rendezvous the first use of a new communications system to allow the station crew to establish radio links with the approaching cargo freighter.
The same proximity communications system will be used by Boeing and SpaceX commercial crew vehicles as they rendezvous with the orbiting complex, and Thursday’s demonstration was a step toward verifying the radio functions as intended.
Nine CubeSats packaged inside the Cygnus pressurized cabin will be transferred into the station’s Japanese Kibo lab, where astronauts will place them in an airlock for retrieval by a robotic arm, which will position the nanosatellites for release into orbit in the coming months.
The nine CubeSats set for release from the space station are:
- CubeRRT, a 6U CubeSat developed at Ohio State University with NASA funding to test a new signal processor to mitigate radio interference impacting microwave radiometer measurements of soil moisture, atmospheric water vapor, sea surface temperature and winds from orbit.
- EQUiSat, a 1U CubeSat developed by Brown University with NASA support as an educational outreach mission, with a secondary objective of demonstrating a new type of battery in space.
- HaloSat, a 6U CubeSat developed at the University of Iowa in partnership with NASA to detect X-ray gas emissions around the Milky Way galaxy.
- MemSat, a 1U CubeSat developed at Rowan University in partnership with NASA, will test a memristor device that could be flown on future satellites to make them more energy efficient and more resilient to power failures.
- RadSat-g, a 3U CubeSat developed at Montana State University in partnership with NASA, will test a new radiation tolerant computer system.
- RainCube, a 6U CubeSat developed at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, will demonstrate the viability and performance of a new expandable Ka-band precipitation radar that can be packaged into a volume to fit in a nanosatellite.
- TEMPEST-D, a 6U CubeSat developed at Colorado State University in partnership with NASA, is a risk mitigation mission for a planned constellation of Earth observation CubeSats that will track the steps in the formation of clouds, precipitation and storms.
- EnduroSat One, a 1U CubeSat developed in Bulgaria, carries an amateur radio payload.
- Radix, a 6U CubeSat owned by a commercial company known as Analytical Space, will test a laser communications terminal planned for use on a future constellation of orbiting data relay nanosatellites to enable high-speed optical downlinks to Earth.
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