It's more than just AcubeSAT...
CubeSats are tiny spacecraft being used to perform different space missions in an affordable way. In the simplest (and most common) form, a 1U CubeSat is a 100x100x100 mm cubic structure. Our team designs a 3U CubeSat (340,5x100x100 mm) which will study the effects of microgravity and cosmic radiation on human-like cells. We are part of the Fly Your Satellite! programme, a dedicated programme of the European Space Agency enabling, mainly through training and financial support, selected student teams to design and fly their own satellite.
Our space mission was birthed from a question sparked in our hearts: Is there any way to perform large-scale biology-centered research on outer space, while being outside of the International Space Station (ISS)? And if so, can this be achieved in a low-cost, scalable and easily reproducible way, in order to tackle complex subjects, such as the prolonged effects space conditions have on humans?
It turns out that, while more than 565 humans have been sent into space, we only possess systemic (at a physiological level) knowledge, instead of a more analytical view, at a cellular or even molecular level.
From the more than 2500 nanosatellites flown into space, only 7 were destined to study a system of biological nature. None of them was realized through a European endeavor. Furthermore, most of these experiments performed were low-scale (1-3 genes), for low-quality observations in a rather short timespan.
The nanosatellite currently designed by ASAT will have an in-house built pressurized vessel containing a microscopic assay and a lab-on-a-chip, able to sustain fungal Saccharomyces cerevisiae cultures, in order to probe the effects of radiation and microgravity conditions in low earth orbit. Towards that experimental goal, the fungal cells are genetically engineered, as to elicit fluorescence during the expression of a gene of interest.
Our experiments will study genes on a scale up to 100-200 times more compared to previous missions, and also provide high-quality visual observations, during an elongated timespan of 6 to 9 months while in orbit. Our platform is modular, and emphasizing the open-source and open-access philosophy we embrace. We aim to leverage the results of our research to perform correlations regarding effects of space conditions on humans at a molecular level. Additionally, the cells used are one of the most important biotechnological tools often used for purposes such as biofuel, medicine and other substances production. Lastly, we hope that all knowledge amassed will help human get one step closer to realizing deep space exploration.
AcubeSAT is an ASAT project meant to first and foremost pave the way for innovative research. To make space more inclusive and approachable, we design a low-cost, scalable and easily reusable laboratory platform. Furthermore, we strive to share all experiment results, code, schematics and knowledge gained, as well as output heavy educational work, staying true to our ideals.
With this project, our team aims to generate and dissipate knowledge within the academic and corporate community about the prospects and opportunities of aerospace engineering and applications thereof, while simultaneously introducing and engaging the general public to the space capabilities of Greek Academic Institutions. This will help combat the limited expertise observed at a national level.
We already have employed over 100 students, due to the innate multi-disciplinary nature of our project, as well as yielded substantial supplementary educational work by percolating knowledge however possible. In the years to come, we will continue striving for knowledge dissipation, aspiring to inaugurate a policy of founding inter-institutional relationships and improving industry integration, to eventually come to bring further research programmes to life.
The core team responsible for the mission and design of the nanosatellite consists of almost 40 students from different departments of AUTh and other academic institutions, who in return gain valuable experience in designing a space mission.
This is just the beginning.