The UPC has developed a payload for a United Arab Emirates satellite

The NanoSat Lab at the UPC has developed one of the payloads for a United Arab Emirates satellite that is being developed by the National Space Science and Technology Center (NSSTC), at the UAE University (UAEU) in Al Ain, to explore new GNSS reflectometry and RF monitoring techniques for the measurement of soil moisture and ionospheric scintillation.

May 05, 2021

The development of the payload is the first initiative in the framework of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed last december by the NanoSat Lab at the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya · BarcelonaTech (UPC) and The National Space Science and Technology Center (NSSTC) at the United Arab Emirates University with the aim of strengthening ties and collaboration between them and their academic and research position in space science and technology.

The purpose of this MoU is to establish the basis and structure through which innovative research in space science and technology related to communications, GNSS and remote sensing can be developed and used. The proposed joint activities also include carrying out joint studies to explore concepts for new small satellite system missions that will be developed, qualified and demonstrated in orbit.

Payload for the GNSSaS RF Technology Demonstrator satellite mission
The first collaborative initiative that falls under the umbrella of this MoU is related to the NSSTC’s invitation for the UPC’s NanoSat Lab to host a secondary payload in its GNSSaS RF Technology Demonstrator satellite mission.

The GNSSaS RF Technology Demonstrator satellite mission developed by the NSSTC consists of a 6-unit (6U) CubeSat satellite that will explore the potential of a low Earth orbit based on a global navigation satellite augmentation system (GNSSaS) for the UAE to enhance position determination using existing GNSS signalling through innovative augmentation techniques.

The GNSSaS satellite will also host the Flexible Microwave Payload v3 (FMPL-3) developed by the UPC’s NanoSat Lab as a secondary payload. The FMPL-3 evolved from the FMPL-2, a microwave payload in the FSSCAT mission that won the 2017 Copernicus Masters competition. The FMPL-3 is a global navigation satellite system reflectometry (GNSS-R) payload that will perform GNSS-R measurements in GPS L5 and Galileo E5a bands for the first time. The payload also incorporates VHF/UHF/L5 radio receivers to monitor ionospheric intensity and phase scintillation simultaneously in these three bands.

The GNSSaS satellite designed and developed by NSSTC engineers will be integrated at the NSSTC-UAEU assembly, integration and testing facilities at Al Ain in the UAE. The satellite is scheduled to be launched in Q3 of 2021 into a 500–600 km sun-synchronous orbit. Communications with the satellite and its control will use the NSSTC ground station and mission control centre in Al Ain.

The director of the NSSTC-UAEU, Dr Khaled AlHashmi, stated that "we are pleased to see that cooperation under the umbrella of the MoU between the NSSTC and the NanoSat Lab has had such a positive start, with the first joint collaborative project well underway to be launched in Q3 of this year (2021). The NSSTC is pleased to host the NanoSat Lab’s GNSS-R experiment as a secondary payload on the NSSTC’s first 6U satellite mission. The NSSTC is looking forward to receiving first-class scientific data that will be jointly processed and analysed by researchers from the UPC and the UAEU".

Benchmark centres in space technology
The NanoSat Lab is a UPC laboratory dedicated to payloads and small satellites that is linked to the University’s Barcelona School of Telecommunications Engineering, CommSensLab María de Maeztu Unit and Department of Signal Theory and Communications. It receives support from the Institute of Space Studies of Catalonia (IEEC). The laboratory has developed small satellites in the 3Cat family, such as the 3Cat-2, the first Catalan satellite to be placed in orbit, in August 2016. The most recent mission has placed two small CubeSat satellites named ³Cat-5/A and ³Cat-5/B in orbit, in the framework of the FSSCAT mission, carrying scientific equipment for monitoring soil moisture and snow and ice extent and thickness in the polar regions.

The UPC is a public institution of research and higher education in the fields of engineering, architecture, sciences and technology, and one of the leading technical universities in Europe (ranked 36th in the world among universities under 50).

The National Space Science and Technology Center was established in 2016 with funding support from the ICT-Telecommunications Regulatory Authority and the United Arab Emirates University (UAEU), as well as project-based funding from the UAE Space Agency. The vision of NSSTC-UAEU is to strengthen its role and contribute to the needs of the nation in terms of space science and space technology. The NSSTC focuses on research and development, higher education and community outreach. The NSSTC has world-class satellite assembly, integration and testing facilities with the capacity to develop satellites up to 250 kg, including cleanrooms, two thermal vacuum chambers and a vibration test facility that includes an EMC and RF antenna anechoic chamber test facility.

The NSSTC also has an advanced ground station system comprising 3.7 m antennas for commercial frequency bands in X for downlink and S for both uplink and downlink, as well as UHF band uplink and downlink antennas, all with auto-signal tracking and radomes. These are managed by a fully equipped ground station and mission control centre at the NSSTC.