The Olin Satellite + Spectrum Technology & Policy Group (OSSTP) Takes Off!

August 19, 2020

This summer, in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic, Olin students and faculty were once again able to collaborate on meaningful research.

One of these research groups is the newly-formed Olin Satellite + Spectrum Technology & Policy Group (OSSTP) led by Whitney Q. Lohmeyer, Assistant Professor of Engineering. The student members are Argyris ‘22, Celvi ‘23, Olivia ‘22, Regan ‘23, Rohil ’23, and Utsav ‘21. Throughout the summer, OSSTP worked hard on a variety of projects, including the NSF-funded SWARM-EX SmallSat project, curriculum development, spectrum policy regulatory research, and orbital debris regulatory research. 

SWARM-EX (led by Argyris ’22, Celvi ‘23, Regan ‘23, and Rohil ‘23)

The first project OSSTP took on is known as the “Space Weather Atmospheric Reconfigurable Multiscale Experiment (SWARM-EX).” It is a multi-university pathfinder project, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), to build and launch three 3U CubeSats that will use formation flying techniques to study thermospheric and ionospheric anomalies. Although Christopher Lee, Professor of Engineering, and his team have worked on ThinSat research sponsored by NASA and the Massachusetts Space Grant Consortium (see pages 6-7 of this document), this project is Olin’s first-ever CubeSat mission!

The institutions participating in the SWARM-EX project are the University of Colorado Boulder, Stanford University, the University of South Alabama, Western Michigan University, Georgia Institute of Technology, and Olin. The Olin team is leading the Systems and Structures subteams, as well as heavily contributing to Ground Station development, radio communications licensing, and the Thermal subteam. This work has involved developing the mass and volume budgets (to ensure that the CubeSats can meet the launch vehicle dispenser constraints), modeling the CubeSat structural assembly, adding requirements to the Requirements Verification Matrix (RVM), designing the ground station architecture, and expanding education and public outreach efforts.

Render of the SWARM-EX CubeSat assembly

A render of the SWARM-EX CubeSat assembly.

The most recent project milestone was the Mission Concept and Requirements Review (MCR/MRR), which took place in July. This review was attended by a wide variety of experts from government agencies (NSF, NASA Goddard/Wallops), industry, and academia. During the review, all OSSTP student members working on the SWARM-EX project were able to present, and they received extremely positive feedback on their attention to technical detail and communication skills. 

During the fall, OSSTP will continue developing and refining the SWARM-Ex design as they work toward the Preliminary Design Review (PDR). OSSTP will also be constructing an Ultra High Frequency (UHF) ground station, which they began designing in the spring. This ground station will support communications with the satellites once they are in orbit, and continue to support other satellite missions going forward.

If you would like to learn more about the SWARM-EX project, please follow the hyperlinks below!

Additional Research - Orbital Debris and Satellite Interference Mitigation

OSSTP has also been developing in-house tools for satellite/spectral analysis. The main focus this summer was the development of a tool to analyze Equivalent Power Flux Density (EPFD), led by Olivia ‘22 and Regan ‘23. EPFD is an advanced interference metric that takes the characteristics and geometry of victim/receiving antennas into account in order to quantify the extent of interference caused to terrestrial systems by a satellite system. It is used by organizations like the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and International Telecommunications Union (ITU) to analyze whether or not the potential interference that a new satellite system could cause is permissible.

OSSTP also spent an extensive amount of time researching regulatory filings from a recent FCC Processing Round and drafting papers based on the findings. So far, the papers have focused on orbital debris mitigation and terrestrial interference strategies. OSSTP hopes that this work will aid the FCC in evaluating different satellite operators’ applications and help maintain a sustainable space and spectral environment for years to come.

Two of the papers drafted so far have had abstracts accepted to the 2021 IEEE Aerospace Conference, to be held in Big Sky, Montana. Below are the citations for these papers. If you are interested, please follow the hyperlinks to view the abstracts!

Additional papers are also in the works, with projected abstract submission during the Fall 2020 semester.

NSF Spectrum Innovation Initiative Planning Grant (led by Utsav ‘21)

Earlier this year, the NSF sent out a call for proposals for the Spectrum Innovation Initiative (SII) Center Planning Grant. This one-year grant is meant to provide recipients with funding to “enable networking and develop collaborations among potential partners, in pursuit of the creation of a larger well-organized team that can submit a [sic] SII-Center proposal.”  This SII-Center must “chart out a trajectory to ensure United States leadership in future wireless technologies, systems, and applications in science and engineering through the efficient use and sharing of the radio spectrum” and should “seek to foster scientific and technical collaboration and grow the spectrum workforce.”

In response to the Planning Grant solicitation, OSSTP submitted a detailed proposal for a center, which will be “a hub that brings together commercial and government expertise with academic collaboration to not only transform wireless education and technology, but to share innovative academic approaches and wireless curriculum design with institutions on a global scale.” 

In early August, OSSTP was notified that their proposal was one of the thirteen selected to receive funding for the planning phase of the project. This funding will allow OSSTP to host workshops that will facilitate collaborative opportunities amongst potential partners, meet with federal stakeholders to incorporate their priorities into the center vision, and engage in exploratory spectrum research. 

If you would like to learn more about OSIIC, please follow the hyperlink below!

New classes (led by Argyris ‘22, Olivia ‘22, Regan ‘23, and Utsav ‘21)

In keeping with Olin’s culture of co-creation, during this summer, OSSTP also worked to expand course offerings. In particular, the Group (led by Utsav ‘21) created the curriculum for a new antenna theory course, entitled “Resonance!,” from scratch. This course is set to be offered for the first time during the Spring 2021 semester. The Group also worked to further develop and refine the curriculum for “Satellite Systems and Consulting Business Practices,” an innovative course first offered in Spring 2020 that covers orbital mechanics, satellite communications, and technical consulting practices.

Certifications

OSSTP student members also worked toward obtaining satellite and wireless communications technology credentials. One particular focus has been obtaining certifications for Systems Tool Kit (STK, formerly Satellite Tool Kit), a software package that is ubiquitous in industry for modeling, simulating, and analyzing aerospace, naval, and ground systems. Four students received their STK Level 1 certification during the summer, while one had already obtained it during the spring semester as part of the Satellite Systems course. Additionally, the students worked toward earning amateur “ham” radio licenses. Through the Olin College Amateur Radio Club (OCARC), two OSSTP student members obtained Technician class licenses in the spring (alongside two other members of OCARC who are not part of OSSTP). This fall, some of these students will look to upgrade their licenses, while other OSSTP student members will take the Technician class exams, which they have been studying for over the summer.

Future Work

In the upcoming year, OSSTP will be continuing work in all of the areas discussed above. However, we also have some exciting expansion plans! In particular, we hope to develop new industry partnerships with companies working in the satellite/spectrum sector!

Website

If you’d like to learn more about OSSTP, please feel free to check out OSSTP’s newly-launched website

This story was written and submitted by Rohil Agarwal ’23