Mission accomplished as ACRUX-1 sends signals from Low Earth Orbit
Three years ago, a Hydrix team including electronics engineer Blake Fuller started assisting and mentoring students participating in the Melbourne Space Program (MSP). This education initiative provides students with hands-on experience in space technology & engineering projects, supplementing university studies and expose them to a multi-disciplinary teamwork environment.
When he started assisting at the MSP, Blake found a far more research-focussed environment. “A project to design and launch a physical satellite seemed an almost insurmountable goal back then. My role was to be both a technical and personal mentor: Assist with technical design challenges, and guide students with little to no industry or product development experience. But what we all had was unlimited enthusiasm, energy and drive to go to space!”
The goal of the ACRUX-1 satellite project was to develop, build and launch a student-designed low earth orbit CubeSat. The requirements were to implement and confirm functionality of subsystems and develop the fundamentals for future satellite missions. At the heart of the challenge was a requirement to build and test a Magnetorquer Attitude Control System, a system that uses electromagnets to push off the Earth’s magnetic field and produce a torque which can turn the satellite in any orientation.
A simulation environment was created to model the dynamics of the Earth-satellite interaction, and over a period of two years the team continuously refined the system. As the Engineering Manager of ACRUX-1, Blake was responsible for the overall hardware, electronics and software development including architecting a robust flight computer.
“Having the technical knowledge and experience enabled me to guide the students and members of MSP through the entire development process pushing them in the right direction”.
Three years of development came down to a single moment in time. As the team gathered at mission headquarters, thoughts turned to all that could go wrong. But the launch was seamless.
“Rocket Lab did its job, and now it was down to us, and our engineering efforts. We had expected to hear a signal as soon as the satellite was deployed, but like in the movies, there was nothing but silence. It was a full hour and a half from launch for the next communications window to occur. The atmosphere in the room was incredibly tense. And then it happened, a beacon from the satellite was detected.
Mission accomplished! “The moment we received that signal the whole room erupted, and I was overcome with joy. It was total validation of the team’s efforts, and confirmation in a small way that I’d been able to help guide this team.”
As part of their extended goals, the Melbourne Space Program (MSP) team will keep collecting data from ACRUX-1 and soon begin orientation experiments.