Students test 'space postal service' during Foton mission

May 10, 2007
Students test 'space postal service' during Foton mission
A student works on YES2 in the vibration facility at ESA's research and technology centre, ESTEC, in Noordwijk, the Netherlands. YES2, the second Young Engineers Satellite, is a student experiment that was prepared, built and tested at ESA's research and technology centre, ESTEC, in Noordwijk, the Netherlands. Almost five hundred students from all over Europe have worked on the experiment. Following launch with Foton-M3 in September 2007, the Fotino re-entry capsule will be deployed on the end of a thirty kilometre tether. At exactly the right moment the mini-Foton is released from the end of the tether. The slingshot places the capsule on a path to re-enter the Earth's atmosphere. It will be the first time that a tether has been used to return a payload from space. The flight is intended to demonstrate how such a tether can be used to change a satellite's orbit without attitude control systems or rocket engines. Credits: ESA - A. Le Floc'h

How do you deliver a parcel down to Earth from space without using a rocket engine and fuel" The answer is YES2, a student experiment that was prepared, built and tested at ESA's research and technology centre, ESTEC, in Noordwijk, the Netherlands. Today, YES2 (Young Engineers Satellite) will be transported to Russia; the launch and operations will follow in September.

Almost five hundred students from all over Europe have worked on the experiment. With that one of the aims of the mission has already been achieved, says ESA project manager Roger Walker from the ESA Education Department: 'YES2 represents a whole collection of university dissertations and theses. Students have gained valuable hands-on experience that will certainly be put to good use immediately if they should continue in the space industry or come to work for ESA.'

Technical demonstration

Besides the educational challenge, YES2 is also a demonstration of new technologies. For the first time in history a thirty kilometre long tether will be deployed in space. And it will be the first time a parcel will be shot back down to Earth from a tether.

The procedure is straightforward. The three-part experiment is mounted on the outside of the Russian research capsule Foton M3. In September Foton M3 will be launched into Earth orbit from the launch base at Baikonur. Just before the Foton returns to Earth, YES2 will be activated.

Fotino

At an altitude of 260 to 300 kilometres a half millimetre thick, thirty kilometre long tether will be rolled out below Foton. This is so long, that the tether will even be visible from Earth in the night sky (from South America and eastern Russia).

At the end of the tether hangs the spherical re-entry capsule Fotino (the parcel). Because of gravity Fotino will swing forwards and back to the vertical. At exactly the right moment the mini-Foton is released from the tether and the slingshot places the capsule on a path towards the Earth's atmosphere, starting its return journey to Earth. A parcel delivery service from space, destination: a remote location in Russia.

A heat shield protects the experiment against the same heat the Space Shuttle faces during its return to Earth. Fotino uses parachutes to prepare for a soft landing. 'If the Fotino capsule lands in the area we are targeting, then our second mission aim is achieved', explains YES2 engineer Fabio De Pascale from Italy. 'If all instruments register the descent and landing, then the third scientific part of the mission is also accomplished.'

Kite rope

More than twenty experiments have been conducted in which a tether has been deployed in space. The longest so far was twenty kilometres and never before was a re-entry capsule attached to the end. Despite the weight of Fotino – six kilograms – the tether is just half a millimetre in diameter. YES2 engineer Marco Stelzer from Germany: 'The tether is made of Dyneema. The same material used by kite surfers to surf through the waves on the end of their kite. Strong stuff.'

If YES2 is successful it will be the first proof that 'space mail' can be sent to Earth using a relatively simple and cheap mechanism. In theory the re-entry capsule could weigh as much as tens of kilograms, says De Pascale. Enough to send experiments from the International Space Station down to scientists on Earth…

Source: European Space Agency

Explore further: NASA selects CubeSat, SmallSat mission concept studies

Related Stories

NASA selects CubeSat, SmallSat mission concept studies

March 23, 2017

NASA has selected ten studies under the Planetary Science Deep Space SmallSat Studies (PSDS3) program, to develop mission concepts using small satellites to investigate Venus, Earth's moon, asteroids, Mars and the outer planets.

Japan's troubled 'space junk' mission fails

February 6, 2017

An experimental Japanese mission to clear 'space junk' or rubbish from the Earth's orbit has ended in failure, officials said Monday, in an embarassment for Tokyo.

Japan 'space junk' collector in trouble

January 31, 2017

An experimental 'space junk' collector designed to pull rubbish from the Earth's orbit has run into trouble, Japanese scientists said Tuesday, potentially a new embarrassment for Tokyo's high-tech programme.

Image: Small satellite deployed from the Space Station

January 2, 2017

A satellite is ejected from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) Small Satellite Orbital Deployer on the International Space Station on Dec. 19, 2016. The satellite is actually two small satellites that, once at ...

An Interview with former NASA astronaut Mike Fossum

February 20, 2017

Mike Fossum is a shining example for astronaut wannabes shooting for the stars. His story undeniably proves that dreams of space voyages come true if you have the motivation and courage to pursue them. In an interview with ...

Recommended for you

Stars born in winds from supermassive black holes

March 27, 2017

Observations using ESO's Very Large Telescope have revealed stars forming within powerful outflows of material blasted out from supermassive black holes at the cores of galaxies. These are the first confirmed observations ...

Supersonic plasma jets discovered

March 27, 2017

Information from ESA's magnetic field Swarm mission has led to the discovery of supersonic plasma jets high up in our atmosphere that can push temperatures up to almost 10 000°C.

Planetary waves, first found on Earth, are discovered on Sun

March 27, 2017

The same kind of large-scale planetary waves that meander through the atmosphere high above Earth's surface may also exist on the Sun, according to a new study led by a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.