THE STUDY OF THE SUN IS ONE OF THE CONSTANTS OF SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH IN ASTRONOMY. TODAY, THE ITALIAN SPACE AGENCY (ASI) HAS DECIDED TO FINANCE SPACE MISSIONS USING MODERN, LOW-COST TECHNOLOGIES SUCH AS THOSE OF THE CUSP PAYLOAD, WHOSE ELECTRONICS WERE ENTIRELY DESIGNED BY SCAI CONNECT
At the national level, summer 2022 represented a crucial time step for the advancement of research in learning about solar activity phenomenologies, through the approval of micro calls related to the Alcor macro programme. Through substantial investments, divided between operational missions and the development of dedicated technologies, the ambitious goal is to highlight Italy as a leader in the sector.
One of the ALCOR programmes funded for the feasibility study and preliminary design of nano-satellite missions is the CUSP project.
CUSP – an acronym for CUbesat Solar Polarimeter – is an entirely Italian mission, carried out by INAF-IAPS in collaboration with IMT, University of Bologna CIRI-Aero, University of Tuscia and SCAI Connect.
Its aim is to improve knowledge of the physical phenomena responsible for the acceleration of particles from the Sun. In particular, CUSP aims to develop a constellation of two Earth-orbiting CubeSat nano-satellites to measure the linear polarisation of the Sun ‘s flares – active sunspot zones – and study their magnetic reconnection and particle acceleration in the magnetic structures within them.
The expected benefit is to reduce the costs compared to traditional missions, while ensuring appropriate high technical and management standards. The first initiative was published in the ‘Future CubeSat Missions‘ call, in which research centres, universities and companies participated. Out of a total of 49 proposals, 20 were selected for funding by the end of the year.
Thanks to the leading role played by SCAI Connect in the working team, INAF-IAPS appointed the SCAI Group to design and develop thefront-end and back-end payload electronics that will be on board the two earth-orbiting CubeSat satellites. These will continuously monitor the measurement of the sun’s linear polarisation in the 20-100 keV band.
The payloads used in space, unlike others, have to meet precise requirements in terms of weight, bulk, consumption, structure vibrations, etc. They therefore require a series of tests to be passed to ensure their performance in space and during the launch phase. In spite of this limitation, the engineers were able to investigate alternative solutions, new-generation materials, different architectures and components that are more economically viable and can therefore be used in everyday technologies. Suffice it to say that, not taking into account the development, operation and maintenance costs of the launch system, the estimated cost of putting a payload into orbit ranges from EUR 5,000 to EUR 10,000 per kilogram.
Out of a total of 20 proposals, the CUSP project ranked sixth in the overall merit list, first among INAF (National Institute of Astrophysics), and was approved for a Phase A study by the ASI.
An exciting opportunity that will bring prestige to the entire SCAI Group, showcasing human excellence in the field of embedded electronics.