University Space Center Shoots for the Moon
The University of Montpellier's space center has had its sights set on the stars since its founding in 2012. The tech platform is the first of its kind in France and brings together students and businesses to collaborate on the nanosatellites of the future.
Robusta 1-B launched on June 23. The lightweight, handheld nanosatellite was the second of its kind to emerge from the space center (CSU) at the University of Montpellier (UM). Students will be tracking the deterioration of the satellite's electronic components during its two-year journey.
"Our technological development efforts are only possible thanks to the support of student interns," explains CSU's technical director Nicolas Roche. "Their skills could be applied at a manufacturing company, a lab or an agency like the European Space Agency (ESA) or the [French governmental space agency] CNES."
CSU receives financial and material support from the space-focused Van Allen Foundation. The center employs six engineers, one professor and one post-doctoral researcher. Founding organizations besides UM include Airbus Defense & Space, 3D Plus, Zodiac Data Systems and Intespace. For Roche, "It's a place for people exchange ideas and access each other's technology."
UM beat out schools in the aeronautics cities of Toulouse and Bordeaux to create France's first university nanosatellite program. CSU was the brainchild of professor Laurent Dusseau, who designed the first French student satellite with the support of CNES. He saw the project as an "opportunity to get young people interested in certain neglected scientific careers."
Now CSU is also home to companies looking to rub elbows with tomorrow's talent. Roche notes, "Many of our graduates in the business world have formed partnerships with the Van Allen Foundation." Roche himself worked on CSU's first nanosatellite as a Ph.D. student.
Satellite design takes time and certain students stay on board throughout their studies. UM now offers a Master's in Space Systems Engineering to meet the growing demand. Last month, UM students won an ESA competition to launch satellites from NASA's International Space Station. CSU intern Baptiste tests materials under extreme takeoff conditions. He reflects, "It was my dream to do a project like this for work. I never thought I would get this chance as a student."