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Compact and robust connectors are critical in Gauss CubeSat deployments

Launching and placing satellites into orbit involves a huge financial outlay, preventing many small organizations from considering projects in the space sector. However, launching multiple satellites on the same rocket (multiple satellites with one arrow), or “carpooling” as it is commonly known, is now making it easier and more affordable for academic institutions and small and medium-sized enterprises to send their devices into space. This means that the space field is no longer the exclusive domain of a few large space players.

By: Eneko Ansoleaga, Business Development Manager, Harwin Corporation (Southern Europe)

Launching and placing satellites into orbit involves a huge financial outlay, preventing many small organizations from considering projects in the space sector. However, launching multiple satellites on the same rocket (multiple satellites with one arrow), or “carpooling” as it is commonly known, is now making it easier and more affordable for academic institutions and small and medium-sized enterprises to send their devices into space. This means that the space field is no longer the exclusive domain of a few large space players.

One recent company that has taken multiple stars with one arrow to a whole new level is GAUSS Srl, the Group of Astrodynamics for the Use of Space Systems. Headquartered in Italy, GAUSS is a spin-off from the Faculty of Aerospace Engineering of the Sapienza University of Rome, and has been involved in the development of microsatellites since the 1990s. Since 2012, it has been a private company serving the aerospace industry with proprietary technology originally developed at the university, while the company has also made great strides in its own engineering. In addition to designing and producing microsatellite hardware, it undertakes analysis for Low Earth Orbit (LEO), Geostationary Orbit (GEO) and interplanetary missions, and is also engaged in various ground-based monitoring operations.


Figure 1: The GAUSS octagonal UNISAT-7 pico/nano satellite deployment platform on the Soyuz-Freget launch vehicle at the Baikonur Cosmodrome.

An important goal of GAUSS is to reduce the financial investment required for academic institutions and small businesses to participate in related space projects, which prompted the company to launch the game-changing UNISAT platform in 2013, which represents a state-of-the-art in the industry as it allows Third-party satellites are released in orbit. In the years that followed, several different UNISAT units were launched into orbit, each subsequently deploying a series of CubeSats and PocketQubes that could be used for education and scientific research.

This “carpool”-style launch makes it more convenient and affordable to send equipment into space, delivering cost savings of 30-35% compared to other methods. In addition to the more attractive pricing, academic institutions don’t have to worry about preparing all the documentation for the launch facility, or buying their own deployment mechanisms, as GAUSS can help handle all of that. They can also better control launch timing, direction, and tracking of their own pico/nano-satellites after release, enabling each piece of equipment to be accurately and safely deployed into Sun-Synchronous Orbit (SSO).

With the latest UNISAT project UNISAT-7, the GAUSS engineering team hopes to take this concept to the next level. They need to increase payload capacity in order to deliver more pico/nano-satellites into space and make more room for additional experimental instruments. At the heart of UNISAT-7’s success is keeping its structure as lean as possible, as this will allow for increased payload.

The UNISAT-7 spacecraft must be very compact, not exceeding the dimensions of 50mm x 50mm x 50mm. Its total launch mass is 32 kilograms, of which 15 kilograms is the payload that needs to be taken to space. Therefore, it is critical to reduce the weight of all the constituent hardware. To achieve this, UNISAT-7 is constructed with an avionics-grade aluminum honeycomb frame and carbon fiber skin. Pod-mounted solar cells are then added externally to provide all the necessary power.

To reduce development time, GAUSS engineers use commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) components wherever possible, supplemented by the use of open-source hardware that has been specially modified to handle the challenging space environment.

Since UNISAT-7 needs to operate for about 3 to 5 years, all components must be able to support long hours of operation. Therefore, continued reliability is critical. Likewise, these components must exhibit strong resilience to the shock and vibration generated during launch. In addition to being able to handle the payload requirements discussed above, they must also be compact and lightweight, as the space available for them is very limited.


Figure 2: One of the Electronic circuit towers of the UNISAT-7 engineering model, designed with Harwin connectors.

When selecting a connector for integration into UNISAT-7, all of the property requirements discussed above need to be met. After considering products from different suppliers, GAUSS engineers clearly determined that Harwin’s Datamate series would best meet their interconnection requirements. These high-reliability (Hi-Rel) connectors can be used for data and power transmission, and they are integrated into radio communication modules required for telemetry, on-board computers (OBC), power conditioning and distribution units (PCDUs), electronic power systems ( EPS), cabin door structure, etc.

Harwin’s Datamate and Datamate Mix-Tek connectors are ideal for use in space applications and have a long established reputation in the field. Due to their small footprint, these 2mm pitch components take up only a small amount of board space. These connectors are 20G vibration and 100G shock tested to handle the extreme conditions encountered during launch, and the 4-finger Beryllium Copper contacts always remain connected to their mating surfaces. Standard Datamate connector contacts are rated at 3A, while Datamate Mix-Tek contacts can deliver up to 40A. They are also able to withstand temperatures up to 125°C and have low outgassing properties which are very beneficial for space applications. Additionally, various locking mechanisms are available to ensure continuous interconnection.


Figure 3: Cabin electronics of UNISAT-7 with GAUSS breakout board 1 (BOB-1) connected to satellite subsystem via Harwin connectors.

Riccardo Di Roberto, Engineering Director of GAUSS UNISAT-7, explained: “Our UNISAT platform offers real advantages over traditional launch methods in terms of cost and logistics for launch missions with limited resources and budgets. To ensure mission success, we need Get solid, high-performance technology. After considering many different possibilities, it became clear that Harwin Datamate connectors solved many of the problems we faced. These components not only provided us with a connection we could rely on, but handled everything involved No compromises. Therefore, Harwin Datamate connectors are used in almost all UNISAT-7 subsystems.”

Riccardo Di Roberto added: “While investigating possible options, we managed to get a lot of useful information from the Harwin website, which helped us find the option that best suited our specific requirements. After that, the samples we requested were delivered very quickly, This allowed us to start prototyping work immediately. We were also able to get very helpful technical advice from Harwin’s technical department as development work progressed.”


Figure 4: UNISAT-7 space selfie.

UNISAT-7 was launched from the Baikonur launch site in Kazakhstan on March 22, 2021 via Russia’s Soyuz-2-1a. Once in orbit, the two CubeSats and three PocketQubes it carried (ranging in size from 1/3U to 1U and 1P to 6P) were all successfully deployed and successfully received by their respective owners. These devices are already performing a variety of different scientific missions, including multispectral radiation and radio frequency analysis, validation of electronic and photovoltaic devices in space, and more. In addition to serving as an in-orbit pico/nano-satellite deployment system, UNISAT-7 will also be available for space debris research and field testing efforts.

GAUSS is currently conducting preliminary work on UNISAT-8 and is also working on developing hardware for several upcoming interplanetary missions. The GAUSS team believes that these projects will give them the opportunity to work with Harwin again soon.

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