Olin Students Present at 2021 SmallSat Conference

September 3, 2021

Congratulations to students from the Olin Satellite + Spectrum Technology & Policy (OSSTP) Group, who presented a paper on their research at the 35th Annual 2021 Small Satellite Conference.

Olin students Rohil Agarwal ’23, Braden Oh ’23, Celvi Lisy ’23, Anargyros Kriezis ’22, Berwin Lan ’24, and Grant Miner ’24, along with Whitney Lohmeyer, assistant professor of engineering and head of the OSSTP Group, submitted the paper on their work on the Space Weather Atmospheric Reconfigurable Multiscale Experiment (SWARM-EX), a multi-university, National Science Foundation-sponsored mission.

Four students work together in a classroom, pointing to a multicolored Cube prototype.

Students from the Olin Satellite + Spectrum Technology & Policy (OSSTP) Group work during the summer of 2021 on a prototype of one of the CubeSats. Photo by Leise Jones.

“SWARM-EX is building three CubeSats through a network of six universities around the country,” explains Oh. “They’re identical and each about the size of a loaf of bread, and once they’re launched, we’ll be able to command the satellites and receive science data back from them.” 

“The goal of SWARM-EX is three-fold,” says Agarwal. “One, we want to collect science data in the upper atmosphere. Two, we want to demonstrate passively safe, autonomous formation flying technologies for the three CubeSat swarm—something that’s never been done for more than two spacecraft before. And three, we want to spread the knowledge we gain to the broader academic and scientific communities.”

The project brings together students from Olin, University of Colorado Boulder, Stanford University, University of Southern Alabama, Georgia Tech, and Western Michigan University. Different universities have ownership over certain subsystems, with Olin in charge of systems and structural engineering, or the main mechanics of the CubeSats. The subsystem teams combine representatives from across the universities, meaning that Olin students work with peers and mentors from the other schools regularly via Zoom.

“A really cool thing about this project is that a lot of students at the other universities are graduate- and PhD-level,” says Agarwal. “Not only do we have the chance to partner with larger universities that have different resources and technical knowledge, but we can work with older students who have different experiences and skill levels.”

The SWARM-EX team’s research paper is about how their team of multi-university students collaborates, such as overcoming challenges in cross-institutional communication and coordination, document sharing and file management, and hardware development.

“It’s been interesting to write this together because it’s not only about new science, but also a new way to approach engineering and effectively bringing resources together from different schools,” says Oh.

The Small Satellite (SmallSat) Conference was held virtually this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Students, researchers, and industry professionals alike meet to explore the possibilities in new space mission operations of the future.

The students pre-recorded a presentation that will be available throughout the SmallSat Conference. They participated in a live Q&A session on August 10 to answer any questions about their research from other participants and peers.

For Agarwal, Oh, and the other students, conducting research with faculty and presenting work at professional conferences offers an excellent opportunity for advancing their knowledge and preparing for their career. 

“Beyond being great preparation for graduate school, these kinds of projects are a great way to contribute new knowledge to the field,” says Oh. “You get to work with so many brilliant people, which gives us a chance to learn about who’s doing cool research and find niches in the industry that we hadn’t known about before.”

These students also submitted a paper together last summer—that time to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Aerospace Conference on orbital debris and power flux density—and will be submitting additional papers to other peer-reviewed journals in the coming months.

“At Olin, these opportunities aren’t once in a while—they come up often,” says Oh. “If you want to get your name on papers, get out there, and prep for grad school, then Olin is perfect for you.”