The background research activities of the CubeSat Team are represented essentially by the experience gained in the field of the educational satellites by the AeroSpace System Engineering Team, ASSET, of the Aeronautics and Space Engineering Department at Politecnico di Torino. ASSET past experience includes preliminary studies about educational satellites, in particular one pico-satellite PICosatellite of Politecnico di Torino and one nano-satellite named PiCPoT, an acronym (in Italian) which stays for Small Cube of Politecnico di Torino.
The PiCPoT program started in 2004 in collaboration with other Italian universities, which are the Università di Roma “La Sapienza” and the Università di Napoli “Federico II”. Research teams from these universities have been collaborating for many years in the studies related to small and low-cost satellites to be developed in the academia for educational and research purposes. In particular the PiCPoT program started at Politecnico di Torino and it involved many teams from different research areas coordinated by ASSET. The PiCPoT project was essentially an educational program devoted to prepare undergraduate and graduated students of aerospace design to carry out a real project of a satellite from the very beginning to the post launch phase. To give educational relevance to the project, which has been developed by the students under the supervision of researchers and professors, a technical objective was identified: to take pictures of the northern hemisphere of the Earth. At the same time, being an university project, the funds were very limited, causing some constraints to be settled. PiCPoT was designed, developed, tested and then successfully integrated on the Dnepr Launch Vehicle at the Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan in June-July 2006. Unfortunately the launch has resulted in a failure, due to problems connected to the rocket arisen after a few seconds from lift-off, so PiCPoT was destroyed with other seventeen satellites.
Notwithstanding the mission failure, PiCPoT program can be considered as a success from different points of view. First of all, it has demonstrated that a small team constituted by people with great enthusiasm, although with a very limited budget, can develop and launch a satellite into orbit. Second, it has been successful from the educational point of view. The program has been followed by students from aerospace, electronics and thermal engineering, both undergraduate and graduate. They have all experienced an exciting and challenging activity, learning to collaborate together and with other teams coming from abroad during the whole program, by exchanging information and experiences.
Difficulties have arisen principally in the organization aspects of the program, in particular due to the continuous delays of the launch date, and also attributable to the lack of experience of the team. A more careful planning is suggested for future similar projects, some of which have already started, in particular as far as the test campaign is concerned.From the technical point of view, the spacecraft has been completely manufactured and tested, so the main objective of the whole program has been met.
Thanks to the lessons learned and to the fundamental experience gained during the PiCPoT program, ASSET has started, as mentioned above, new university space projects, in particular the CubeSats program ([email protected] and [email protected] CubeSats).