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Small Satellite Computer Developed for ‘Flying Laptop’

A satellite computer designed to serve as the basis of a small, reusable satellite platform has been developed by students at the University of Stuttgart. Part of the “Flying Laptop” project, the compact computer is designed for “micro” satellites of up to about 130 kg and integrates computer functions and a power supply unit that can be used as the main satellite supply.

The computer is said to be among the fastest available for such purposes, and is based on radiation-resistant chips, in contrast to computers of other small university satellites. The unit consists of four single-board computers providing the following functions:

  • Core board based around the Aeroflex LEON3FT processor, a 32-bit SPARC V8 microprocessor with on-chip interfaces including cPCI, SpaceWire and CAN
  • I/O board operated by a radiation-tolerant FPGA
  • Consultative Committee for Space Data Systems (CCSDS) protocols telemetry/telecommands board
  • Power Control and Distribution Unit

Power is provided by three solar panels along with commercial off-the-shelf Lithium iron phosphate cells. The battery system comprises three battery cell strings — one for each solar panel — providing a nominal voltage of 23.1 V and capacity of 35 Ah.

The launch of a small satellite with the computer on board is planned for early 2014. The satellite will also contain three on-board camera systems, intended for recording shipping movements and vegetation measurements, as well as other observations.

Editor's note: This blog, originally posted on EBN sister site EDN, explores a small, reusable satellite platform. The spark of innovation comes from students, no less, and has applications beyond the immediate opportunity presented. Share your thoughts in the comments field below.

10 comments on “Small Satellite Computer Developed for ‘Flying Laptop’

  1. Daniel
    August 28, 2013

    Rich, wonderful and hats off to those students at university of Stuttgart. It shows that how students are looking for technology at various application levels.  As of now in satellites only onboard chips are using for various data calculation and analysis, onboard computers are first of its kind.

  2. Houngbo_Hospice
    August 28, 2013

    Many student projects had found their way from the lab to the market with great success in the past. The success of small satellite computers will depend on their prices and their performance.

  3. Eldredge
    August 28, 2013

    Sounds like an interesting project for the students involved. Am a little surprised that other universities chose not to use rad-hardened chips.

  4. Daniel
    August 29, 2013

    “Many student projects had found their way from the lab to the market with great success in the past. The success of small satellite computers will depend on their prices and their performance.”

    HH, I won't think for such college projects funding may be an issue because finally such things has to be adopted or implemented by NASA and other government funded agencies

  5. Daniel
    August 29, 2013

    “Sounds like an interesting project for the students involved. Am a little surprised that other universities chose not to use rad-hardened chips.”

    Eldredge, actually most of the innovation and researches are happening in top universities. Similarly all other colleges and universities has to be funded properly either from federal/statement or private companies, to convert their labs to research centre. Students have the best mind and ideas; if somebody will be able to guide them properly, amazing results can be obtained. 

  6. t.alex
    September 1, 2013

    I am just curious Why they choose the name to be “Flying laptop” not “Flying computer”. It is not really a laptop but a computer anyway:-)

    Definitely this is a very interesting platform for university research.

  7. Daniel
    September 3, 2013

    “I am just curious Why they choose the name to be “Flying laptop” not “Flying computer”. It is not really a laptop but a computer anyway:-)”

    Alex, the best nomenclature is onboard computing chips.

  8. Eldredge
    September 3, 2013

    I agree – this is much more of a special purpose computer application.

  9. t.alex
    September 6, 2013

    Jacob, how about iFly 🙂

  10. Daniel
    September 9, 2013

    “how about iFly :-)”

    Alex, that's also an apt name. Normally such names belong to the discrete power of the project team.

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