Coming soon, the first Franco-Russian nanosatellite, « made in Grenoble »

sep article

Notre indépendance c

FOCUS – “The phase zero review” of the construction of the first nanosatellite ‘made in Grenoble’ is approaching fast ! The Franco-Russian team has, in fact, already presented the progress of the project to experienced engineers in the field of space studies. Mathieu Barthélémy, teacher and researcher at the Institute for Planetology and Astrophysics (Ipag) and Director of the space centre at the Grenoble university (CSUG), unveils the Grenoble trademark elements in spatial studies and advances of research on the nanosatellites.






A nanosatellite in orbit

A nano­sa­tel­lite in orbit (Illustration). DR

Nanosatellite deve­lop­ment began at the end of the 1990s. “Initially, they were satel­lites meant for edu­ca­tio­nal pur­poses”, said Mathieu Barthélémy. “But, for the last four or five years, scien­tists and manu­fac­tu­rers have begun to rea­lize the dif­ferent appli­ca­tions pos­sible in the deve­lop­ment of tech­no­logy or in their ori­gi­nal obser­va­tions.”


The term ‘nano­sa­tel­lite’ is not yet clearly defi­ned : accor­ding to defi­ni­tions, it can be a satel­lite wei­ghing less than 50 kilo­grams, some­times less than 30, or even less than 10 kg. One thing is cer­tain : the stan­dar­di­za­tion of for­mats and the dif­ferent com­po­nents of the nano­sa­tel­lites dif­fer from those of their big bro­thers. The result ? Lower costs and the abi­lity to per­form more recur­ring mis­sions.


“When spea­king of nano­sa­tel­lites, we use the term ‘unit’, more spe­ci­fi­cally ‘CubeSat’, a very stan­dar­di­zed type of satel­lite. These are cubes with a dimen­sion of 10 × 10 × 10 cm, a volume of one litre and a weight of one kilo­gram. Electrical power consump­tion is about 1 Watt. There are 6U or 12U CubeSats : lar­ger satel­lites, consis­ting of seve­ral units”, says Mathieu Barthélémy, adding with a smile : “CubeSat units fit toge­ther almost like Lego, although they are far more com­pli­ca­ted!”




Mathieu Barthélémy, tea­cher and resear­cher at the Institute for Planetology and Astrophysics (Ipag) and Director of the space centre at the Grenoble uni­ver­sity (CSUG). © Yuliya Ruzhechka –


What will the first CSUG satellite be ?



We are crea­ting the first nano­sa­tel­lite in col­la­bo­ra­tion with Russian stu­dents from the National University of elec­tro­nic tech­no­logy research (MIET) of Zelenograd. There are two options for this pro­ject : either a CubeSat in six units, or a nano­sa­tel­lite – a lit­tle dif­ferent and a lit­tle big­ger. The main objec­tive ? This satel­lite will study light emis­sions, very high up in the atmos­phere, at bet­ween 100 and 300 km of alti­tude. In low alti­tude zones over France, for example, known as the air­glow (night sky light), then at high alti­tudes near the poles, where the emis­sions are more intense : these are known as the Northern Lights.



What are the other possible uses of nanosatellites, beyond space weather ?


Their uses are extre­mely diverse. The nano­sa­tel­lite can be used to make obser­va­tions of the Earth, for example, snow or forest cove­rage. Alternatively, these small satel­lites could be used in tele­com­mu­ni­ca­tions. Researchers are also reflec­ting upon the use of nano­sa­tel­lite constel­la­tions in the scope of the Internet. For now, it’s not the order of the pro­ject, but why not ! Currently, we use nano­sa­tel­lites for demons­tra­tions and tech­no­lo­gi­cal tests in order to advance the research.


Miniaturized instrumentation embedded in a satcub. DR

Miniaturized ins­tru­men­ta­tion embed­ded in a sat­cub. DR


In the long-term, will nanosatellites be able to replace large satellites ?


I don’t think that they will replace large satel­lites ; they will be com­ple­men­tary to the nano­sa­tel­lites. Launching one 100-mil­lion-euro satel­lite, or 50 2‑mil­lion-euro satel­lites, will not give the same result. With large satel­lites, the obser­va­tions are extre­mely accu­rate. With nano­sa­tel­lites, the obser­va­tions are pro­ba­bly a lit­tle less pre­cise, but can be dis­tri­bu­ted more widely.



Are there any particularities from Grenoble in the field of nanosatellites ?


Grenoble has quite an inter­es­ting posi­tion : it is a major force in the deve­lop­ment of nano­tech­no­logy. The Grenoble bran­ding is the minia­tu­ri­za­tion of space ins­tru­ments, which will enable the most accu­rate pos­sible space-based obser­va­tions. These two points will create the image and strength of the CSUG



A nanosatellite in orbit (illustration). © SkyFi

A nano­sa­tel­lite in orbit (illus­tra­tion). © SkyFi

Does the pre­sence of constel­la­tions of satel­lites above the Earth consti­tute a dan­ger ?


The main dan­ger is the pos­si­bi­lity of col­li­sion bet­ween satel­lites. It is a situa­tion com­pa­rable to road traf­fic. The ques­tion of the dimen­sion of the orbits is very impor­tant. We must com­ply with laws on space ope­ra­tions, as defi­ned by the United Nations. For example, a satel­lite must fall in less than twenty-five years. When small satel­lites fall back into the atmos­phere, they must burn com­ple­tely.


Before laun­ching a satel­lite, we must be able to gua­ran­tee that even the lar­gest com­ponent that could pos­si­bly fall, will not damage anyone or any­thing.



Is there a difference in the treatment of data collected by the nanosatellites and large satellites ?


One of the dif­fi­cul­ties with the nano­sa­tel­lites lies in the fact that they are scat­te­red. These are spe­ci­fic dif­fi­cul­ties in the constel­la­tions of satel­lites, whose ele­ments must be inter-cali­bra­ted, so that each of the satel­lites give the same mea­su­re­ments. For satel­lites that are deve­lo­ped fas­ter and are the­re­fore, tes­ted less, there is a risk of less pre­cise mea­su­re­ments. At the CSUG, we try to not to reduce the pro­duc­tion time, in order to be able to test them, and retain the qua­lity of extre­mely pre­cise mea­su­re­ments.



What do you think of the popularization of science through popular culture, for example, the series The Big Bang Theory ?


It’s inter­es­ting, because this could bring us future stu­dents (smile). But, in Tintin, long ago, as in The Big Bang Theory today, there are a lot of stu­pid things said. Therefore, be care­ful ! In mecha­nics courses, I have made silly remarks, for example, from Tintin. As a tea­cher, I must put things back in place.



Yuliya Ruzhechka




Traduction from Speak English Center

Phone : +33 4 76 50 39 79

1 ave­nue du Vercors, 38600 Fontaine FRANCE



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