Space Instrumentation

Space instrumentation (systems) engineering covers a key research topic within the chair Space Systems Engineering and beyond. Strong research ties are present within the department Space Engineering as a whole as well as with diverse other faculties within the TU Delft, i.e., TNW, EWI, CiTG and 3mE. Furthermore a strong corporation with the Dutch high tech space scene is present through companies and institutes such as: Airbus Defence Systems (ADS) Leiden, COSINE, ISIS, TNO Space, Lens R&D, SRON, ASTRON, RUL, TUT, TU/e and the recently constituted Delft Optics Centre (DOC). The Space Engineering department is well recognized for its work on the design, development and launch of educational nano-satellites. The study and development of small space instruments and sensor system for this class of small satellites (CubeSats, PicoSats) is one of the most important short-medium term objectives in our current roadmap.

These instruments provide with Earth Observation (EO) data which has become more and more important for a wide variety of applications. High-Resolution EO ranges from defence and security to environmental monitoring, precision farming and disaster response. This data is presently captured by EO systems such as GeoEye, Quickbird, Worldview, Spot and Planet-Labs. Such satellites, except for  Planet-Labs, are large, heavy and expensive. As a result, data produced by these satellite systems is also very expensive. Moreover, the number of systems capable of capturing imagery at a high resolution is still limited whilst the swath width of these systems is typically small. This means that for many regions on Earth, frequently updated imagery is simply not available.

The market for CubeSats offers a huge potential for Earth Observation (EO) satellites with a high re-visit time. However, the development to sustain a higher spatial resolution better than 4 m is a challenge. It requires  a stable EO platform to acquire accurate EO images from Very Low Earth Orbits (VLEO) in the altitude range 230 – 380 km. To obtain a pointing accuracy down to 1 degree and a high stability of the spacecraft, severe difficulties are present due to the nature of the atmosphere at these altitudes. The thermosphere is affected by the solar flux and magnetic indices which impose significant temperature and density fluctuations. The control of these issues, combined with free molecular flows, requires a complex model to predict any disturbance to be encountered.

The current research is focussing on the following topics:

Fig-1 The ANT-2A plug-and-play CubeSat camera design optimized for the altitude H = 288 km altitude


Fig-2 The SHAPE 6U EO Cubesat for VLEO EO in the thermosphere


Fig-3 The 3U optimized ANT-3A concept for the altitude H = 350 km


Fig-4 Deployable Space Telescope concept with 25 cm resolution at H = 500 km, 5 km swath width at 500 km altitude, 400 dm3 volume, 75 kg mass, panchromatic (450-650 nm) and SNR ~ 125