UK Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (UKSEDS) and SSPI (Space and Satellite Professionals International) recently announced the results of the 2016-2017 Small Sats Satellite Design Competition. With a first prize of £500, teams were challenged to develop the design for a small communications satellite capable of delivering 50Mbps of data connectivity from LEO to small antennas on the ground without exceeding a weight limit of 150 kilograms.

Submissions from several UK universities were judged on quality, depth, and rigour of the work presented, and on the breadth of the work in terms of topics covered. Each team was assigned a mentor within the satellite industry to act as an advisor in this process.

“It has been a pleasure to represent Cranfield University in the “Small Sats – The Next Generation” competition organised by the SSPI,“ Gabriel Faleiro Rodríguez, Project Leader of the CranSEDS team, the winner of the competition.

“The CranSEDS team is extremely satisfied with the result and we feel very grateful to the SSPI for considering our proposal worthy of the first prize. The experience of participating in this competition has been very helpful for our development as engineers in the space industry. It is a serious challenge to face a design project like this and can be overwhelming for any group of young students like us. Fortunately, we utilised the outstanding preparation that the MSc in Astronautics and Space Engineering of Cranfield University provided us. The different group design projects proposed by the team formed by Dr Jennifer Kingston, Dr Stephen Hobbs, Dr Pau Sanchez and Prof David Cullen that we had to develop for the Master’s course gave us very good knowledge on how to approach the design of any space mission.”


Some interesting technical details of CranSEDS winning design are, for example, the number of satellites that would be necessary using this constellation, which reaches a total of 242 satellites. The team envisaged that this number of satellites will provide global coverage. The peak data rate capability that the system could provide is 155Mbps, which is inside the range of current 4G systems (100-1000 Mbps). The small and low-cost satellites were designed to have four antennas for communication between satellites and one phased-array for communication with the users. With a mass of 150 kg, the satellites are comprised of aluminium-skinned honeycomb panels and a ‘fold-and-roll-up’ solar panel.

 3D model of the design of the satellite from Cranfield University’s CranSEDS team

“The key of our success with this project was the research that the team did before starting the design. We made sure that we covered all real-life missions that were similar to ours, we analysed the pros and cons, and we tried to take the best solution possible, whilst adhering to the rules and requirements of the competition,“ Gabriel said.

Having a multicultural team, with people from the UK, France, Nigeria, Spain, Bulgaria and Greece made this part of the process both challenging and more interesting. Once everyone was on the same page, the design process was very straightforward, with fluid coordination between the different work packages. “If our results can be considered feasible and interesting from the industry’s point of view, it is thanks to the good management that we had, which enabled our technical skills to produce a technically accurate and detailed design,” Gabriel added.

“Participating in the SSPI UKSEDS competition provided a great opportunity to apply principles learned during university studies to a novel space application - and an appreciation for a real satellite design process,” says James Telfer, Chair of UKSEDS.

Iain Brechtelsbauer from the University of Sheffield SEDS team observes: “What was particularly interesting about the project was the inter-disciplinary nature due to the range of areas covered; communications engineering, aerospace engineering and orbital mechanics to name a few. This needed a team effort, leveraging members’ specific areas of knowledge. Working with this group also taught us all about the art of compromise.”

“What was particularly useful through these challenges was the mentor assigned to our team. To work with someone with 25 years+ first-hand experience in the space industry really was invaluable not only when taking part within the competition but also taking forward in further studies. Overall, the competition was a great experience not only from a technical aspect of applying engineering knowledge to a real-world example but also in developing valuable skills in working in a diverse team, holding discussions and delivering presentations to the final written report,” Iain added.

Betty Bonnardel, President of SSPI UK said “It is a great honour to meet these promising space and satellite professionals. They showed a huge maturity through their questions during the panel, and the quality of the projects received made it difficult to find the two winning teams. I wish them all the best for their future.”

The University of Sheffield team would like to thank SSPI and UKSEDS for organising the competition and would definitely recommend people to get involved in future editions!

Now, UKSEDS is engaging in a rocketry competition – we wish the participants all the best and we look forward to learning the outcome later in 2018.