SpaceX’s Falcon-9 rocket will launch an experimental nanosatellite into orbit

Today, the SpaceX Falcon-9 rocket will launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida, USA. The rocket will contain an experimental nanosatellite, named SOMP2b, which will conduct several scientific experiments from the Institute of Aerospace Engineering at TU Dresden.

On the specially developed nanosatellite SOMP2b, TU Dresden will investigate new nanomaterials under the extreme conditions of space, test systems for converting the Sun’s heat into electricity, and precisely measure the residual atmosphere around the satellite. SOMP2b will begin its journey around the Earth at an altitude of 500 km – slightly higher than the ISS space station. It will orbit the Earth in a special polar, sun-synchronous orbit.

SOMP2b is a follow-up satellite to SOMP2, a nanosatellite jointly developed by students, PhD candidates and scientists from TU Dresden’s Faculty of Mechanical Science and Engineering. “SOMP2b” stands for Student On-Orbit Measurement Project Number 2b. It is 20 cm x10 cm x10 cm in size and weighs a little less than 2 kilogrammes. SOMP2b will orbit the Earth so fast that it will see sunrise and sunset 16 times a day. This will be accompanied by extreme temperature changes and will be particularly challenging for the materials and electronics. Particle radiation from space, low pressures, and the residual particles in the atmosphere surrounding SOMP2b at high velocities put additional stress on the nanosatellite.

Dr Tino Schmiel, who heads the Satellite Systems and Space Sciences research field at the Institute of Aerospace Engineering explains: “We want to test innovative nanomaterials under these extreme conditions in space. The knowledge gained will help us to better understand the material properties and should be applied into new applications in the future. We are developing new types of protective films against electromagnetic radiation in motor vehicles or medical technology. Such thermoelectric materials are also interesting for terrestrial applications: in principle, anywhere where waste heat is lost without being used.”

SOMP2b is also an educational training project funded by the German Aerospace Center e.V. (DLR). Many students were involved in the development of the satellite and the scientific experiments. Professor Martin Tajmar, Director of the Institute of Aerospace Engineering, said: “They faced great challenges in the process. The systems have to work in very rough space and survive the launch. You can’t fly behind the satellite and re-adjust it. This is the only way we can train students in a practical way.”

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