July 14, 2017 | Two birds with one stone

The small satellites 'TechnoSat' and 'Flying Laptop' are successfully launched into space

  • The mission objectives are to test technologies in space and conduct scientific observations of Earth.
  • The mission of the ‘Flying Laptop’ satellite will operate for at least two years and that of TechnoSat at least one year.
  • Focus: Space

On 14 July 2017At 08:36 CEST, the two research satellites 'Flying Laptop' and 'TechnoSat' were successfully launched to space on board a Russian Soyuz rocket from Baikonur Cosmodrome. The development, construction and launch of TechnoSat and the launch of Flying Laptop were financed by the Space Administration at the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) with funds from the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy. As well as testing new technologies under space conditions, the small satellites are also educational training missions – doctoral students developed, constructed and qualified the satellites for their flight to space and undergraduate students supported this process with their dissertations. "For us, practical training for young engineers is an important aspect of these small satellite missions. Another is the chance to test technologies. Many manufacturers, including small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), would like to test their aerospace technology and components for future satellites directly in orbit under space conditions. But up to now, such missions have been very costly. Small satellites could turn things around in this respect," stresses Christian Nitzschke, programme manager at the Department of Technology for Aerospace Systems and Robotics in the DLR Space Administration, who is responsible for the missions.

The ‘TechnoSat’ nanosatellite will test seven experiments

"Before new technical components are used in future space missions, they must be tested in orbit. Thanks to their limited size and weight and the use of advanced components from the areas of information and communications technology and the automotive industry, nanosatellites can make space missions more efficient," explains project manager Merlin Barschke from the Technical University of Berlin (TU Berlin). Seven experimental payloads are installed on the octagonal TechnoSat nanosatellite (which weighs in at approximately 20 kilograms), whose function and performance will be tested in orbit.

Orienting the satellites and determining their position

Also on board is an innovative concept developed by TU Berlin for orienting satellites – the Fluid-Dynamic Actuator. Instead of an electric motor, an electromagnetic pump is used, which channels a liquid metal through a circular canal, allowing the satellite to be quickly and precisely oriented. Conventional, electric motor-driven reaction wheels developed by TU Berlin are also being tested in parallel. In addition, the STELLA star tracker developed by the University of Würzburg must also demonstrate its functional capability by determining the position of the satellite based on the position of the brightest stars.

The team will also test the HISPICO S-Band Transmitter, a joint project of TU Berlin and IQ wireless GmbH. It is designed to transmit higher data volumes from orbit to the ground station than current radio connections allow. For this purpose, the TechnoSat camera will take photographs, which will be sent via the S-Band Transmitter to Earth and will also be used for public relations work. The laser retroreflectors, developed jointly by the TU Berlin, the Helmholtz Centre in Potsdam and the Austrian Academy of Sciences, will measure the satellite orbit with precision. To do this, a laser beam will be directed from the ground station to the satellite, and the time that elapses until the beam is reflected back to Earth will be measured. This experiment is intended to show that small, lower-cost, commercial reflectors can be used for this application. The SOLID (Solar panel based Impact Detector) in-situ sensor developed at the DLR Institute of Space Systems will also be tested in orbit. In future, SOLID will record the prevalence of space debris and micrometeorites in space and improve existing simulation models.

Flying Laptop – a small satellite as a training and test mission

"The 'Flying Laptop' project offers both undergraduate and doctoral students a fantastic opportunity to put learned theory into practice and gain project experience in a real space mission. So far, more than 150 student dissertations and over 20 doctoral papers have been written in connection with this project," reports Sabine Klinkner, project manager at the University of Stuttgart. The 110-kilogram ‘Flying Laptop’ small satellite was developed and constructed by post-graduate and undergraduate students at the university's Institute of Space Systems. The necessary infrastructure for the construction, qualification and operation of small satellites in general was also created as part of the development of the satellite. In addition to a large clean room for the integration of satellites, an optics laboratory and a thermal-vacuum chamber, the ground station with a control segment at the University of Stuttgart was also set up and a satellite simulation environment was developed.

Testing innovative technologies in space

The satellite platform itself forms the main component of the technology testing in space. It has a system for high-precision attitude control and three solar panels that generate approximately 270 watts. A series of innovative systems that will also be tested in orbit are also on board. These include an innovative unfolding mechanism for the solar panels, a new type of on-board computer system and the OSIRIS data transmission system, which will demonstrate high data transmission speeds via an infrared laser link. In cooperation with the company TESAT, a payload data communications system in the S-band frequency range has been developed. An innovative operating and security concept has also been developed in cooperation with Airbus Defence and Space in Friedrichshafen.

Furthermore, for the mission objective of Earth observation an innovative, multi-spectral  camera system will observe the Earth from different angles. With these images, the vegetation will be examined to, for example, study the dissemination of introduced plant species. In addition, with the aid of Automatic Identification System (AIS) receivers provided by the DLR Institute of Space Systems in Bremen, it will also be possible to received signals from ships. The combination with the photographs taken by the satellite is new, as the real position of the ships can now be compared with the signals received. Furthermore, in cooperation with the Technical University of Denmark (DTU), the star trackers built into the satellite will be used to look for so-called near-Earth objects (NEOs). Asteroids within Earth’s orbit that are barely visible from the ground will be detected.

To conclude the Flying Laptop mission, a de-orbit mechanism will ensure that the satellite burns up in the atmosphere within the 25-year time limit imposed by the United Nations to avoid the formation of additional space debris.


Lisa Eidam

German Aerospace Center (DLR)
German Space Agency at DLR
Space Administration, Communikation
Königswinterer Straße 522-524, 53227 Bonn

Christian Nitzschke

German Aerospace Center (DLR)
DLR Space Administration, General Technologies and Robotics
Königswinterer Straße 522-524, 53227 Bonn-Oberkassel

Waldemar Bauer

German Aerospace Center (DLR)
Institute of Space Systems
Robert-Hooke-Straße 7, 28359 Bremen