Warwick University Satellite Project – WUSAT-2





What is WUSAT-2?

One early December day in 2013 and the Warwick University Satellite Team (WUSAT) first learn they have been awarded payload space on a REXUS rocket. For the team, it was ‘all systems go’.

Warwick team’s proposal is called WUSAT-2, a scientific research project to monitor, record and map light frequencies of certain chemical elements in the upper atmosphere. This 2nd generation project builds upon WUSAT-1 – the team’s earlier balloon-launched initiative.


 From balloon to rocket to space


WUSAT-2 - the key difference

WUSAT-2 picks up where WUSAT-1 left off by employing the REXUS rocket to carry a CubeSat nanosatellite payload to an altitude of nearly 100km. At this height WUSAT-2, carrying a light-spectrometer free-falling probe, is released to descend back to earth.

As the satellite re-enters the atmosphere, the project team will monitor and record light frequencies of elements - including Sodium and Oxygen - at different heights. This will help them to create a density map of element types against differing altitude levels.


WUSAT project background

WUSAT-2 is linked to the international REXUS  (Rocket and Balloon Experiments for University Students) programme. This allows universities and higher colleges to bid, and hopefully be selected, for the opportunity to carry out research experiments using rockets and balloons.

Each year, two rockets and two balloons are launched. College student groups submit proposals to stake a claim for payload space on either rocket or balloon. The WUSAT-2 project proposal was accepted by the REXUS team and will meet a wide range of objectives.


Specific objectives of WUSAT-2

More than merely the measurement of light, the project’s purpose is far reaching:

  • To successfully carry the scientific payload up to the required altitude
  • To deploy the instrumentation (light-spectrometer ) successfully
  • To meet instrumentation monitoring and recording requirements, i.e. to produce the required density map
  • To successfully transmit the instrumentation data to Earth whilst the satellite is re-entering the atmosphere
  • To bring the nanosatellite safely back to Earth


Each objective will help the team to learn and overcome the wide range of engineering challenges WUSAT-2 presents.


Long term objectives of WUSAT-2

Significant benefits for both students and university are realised by the project:

  • To promote the development of satellite engineering as a Warwick University research capability and attract high quality students
  • To promote the topic of space engineering to a wider engineering-based audience
  • To encourage students to adopt a career in the space research industry
  • To foster an environment where students can work closely with others and with industrial partners



WUSAT-2 timelines and milestones


2013 to 2014

  • December 2013 - WUSAT-2 shortlisted and successfully awarded payload space on REXUS rocket
  • March 2014 - Preliminary design work presented to the European Space Agency (ESA) and  REXUS engineers
  • June – November 2014 - Test plans drafted and finalise pre/post flight procedures


Launch and recovery plans

  • January 2015: Final version of WUSAT-2 satellite and systems delivered to ESA/REXUS
  • March 2015: Launch campaign at the Esrange Space Centre, Sweden
  • Team spend 12 days on site preparing satellite for launch, and testing all communication systems
  • WUSAT-2 launch to take place on 17th March 2015, weather permitting
  • Recovery of satellite and data back to WUSAT laboratory for post-launch analysis


Meet the WUSAT team

Mirroring real world engineering and with a true hands-on approach, WUSAT-2 gives the team valuable experience for their future career. A total of 14 MEng students have worked on the project, from a range of courses and specialised fields.


WUSAT-2  sponsorship

Vital to the success of this complex engineering project is support and sponsorship. Among a select group of project sponsors are RS Components, acknowledged leaders in the arena of sponsoring and nurturing talent in the wider scientific and engineering fields.

         The 2014/15 WUSAT-2 team



Examples of how RS Components have helped:

  • Supply of Peli heavy duty industrial carry cases
  • Supply of ‘Easy’  radio modules – a vital component in the radio transmission system
  • Provision of a wide range of power supplies, soldering equipment, oscilloscopes and various prototyping equipment and electronic components


Next steps for WUSAT

Not to be content with the technical challenges of launching, monitoring and recovery of WUSAT-2, the team looks forward to developing a fully orbital launch capability: WUSAT-3. Further building on the team’s engineering credibility, WUSAT-3 will moving them into a potentially lucrative and exciting research area.

To this end, the team has already been approached by a major space technology manufacturer on ESA’s PLATO mission. Here, the University of Warwick is taking the scientific lead in a mission to build a one billion euro planet-hunting, space telescope.


WUSAT-2: A summary

What this project demonstrates is that engineers – whatever their discipline - can work as a team to achieve significant results in both the scientific and related engineering fields.

It also shows that Universities such as Warwick can be rewarded by major scientific institutions, attracting support and sponsorship from leading industries and businesses, such as RS Components.

PLATO – Planet Hunter and Star Probe