Our laboratory started the nano-satellite development project in April 2000. Students in our laboratory participated in USSS (University Space Systems Symposium) a year ago, and decided to participate in ARLISS (A Rocket Launch for International Student Satellite) that is a launch program of the satellite model "CanSat" to 4km altitude by a model rocket in Blackrock desert in Nevada, USA, and to develop a CubeSat. In this page, the story from the participation of USSS to now is introduced briefly.

The following chronology summarized the story of our activities.

Autumn 1998We applied to the Satellite Design Contest that was the first time for our laboratory. We won the Japan Society of Aeronautical and Space Science Award.
Autumn 1999We participated in 2nd USS, and decided to participate in the CanSat project and CubeSat project.
Summer 2000We participated in ARLISS for the first time, and launched three CanSats.
Autumn 2000 Comprehensive engineering and education of creative design and manufacturing through development of nano-satellite ducational project in our department "Comprehensive engineering and education of creative design and manufacturing through development of nano-satellite" was adopted as a research subject of Grant for private university of MEXT (FY2000-FY2003).
Spring 2001CubeSat project was started. We started the design of a 1U CubeSat named "SEEDS". We participated in University Satellite Consortium (UNISAT).
2002We participated in University Space Engineering Consortium (UNISEC) that was former UNIAST.
Dec. 2003 We exchanged the MOU for launch of SEEDS with California Polytechnic State University (CalPoly).
Sep. 2004We completed SEEDS and exported it to CalPoly.
July 2006SEEDS was launched by Russian rocket Dnepr-LV7, but the launch failed because of the trouble of the first engine of Dnepr.
August 2006We started the refurbish of the backup of SEEDS, "SEEDS-II", and engaged the piggy-back launch of SEEDS-II with University of Toronto.
June 2007We completed the flight model of SEEDS-II, and exported it to University of Toronto.
Autumn 2007 The educational activity of our college "Awake of indivisual autonomy and creativity by Mirai-Hakase-Kobo (Future-Doctore-Laboratory)" led by Prof. Akiyoshi Itoh (Department of Electronics and Computer Engineering) was adopted as a educational subject of Good Practice program of MEXT ( - end of FY2009). Satellite Lab was established.
April 2008SEEDS-II was launched by Indian rocket PSLV-C9 successfully. SEEDS-II is operated even now.
March 2012Our third satellite "SPROUT", 20cm cubical satellite with 7.1kg weight, was selected as a piggy-back satellite for H-IIA rocket launch in FY2013.
May 2014SPROUT was launched by H-IIA successfully. SPROUT is operated every day now.
Each event in this chronology is summarized in the following:

Satellite Design Contest

Satellite Design Contest (SatCon) is a student contest to compete the mission and design of 50kg class satellite. SatCon was established in 1993, and the final review (presentation) is held in every autumn. Almost all universities (laboratories) developing nano-satellites started their career from this contest. Our laboratory participated in SatCon from 1998 to 2006 almost every year. We won the Japan Society for Aeronautical and Space Science Award by "Flying Object Observation Satellite in Lunar Orbit" (Mr. Masatoshi Okeda, et.al., won the same award by "Egg-shaped satellite SUCUSUCU" (Mr. Masataka Hirajo, et.al., and won the Best Design Award by their design proposal "PRIMROSE" (Mr. Masahiko Yamazaki, et.al.

Through the participation of the contest, you can deeply understand the theory of space engineering concerned with the design of satellite, which is quite valuable experience. Then, the students increases their motivation to do something other than paper work. In such a situation, we were suggested to participate in USSS.


USSS is one of the activities on JUSTSAP (Japan-US Science, Technology and Space Application Program Promotion) program. USSS was held in Hawaii every year from 1998 to 2005. THe objective of this symposium is to launch the collaborative project on space system by Japanese and US universities. In the first and the second USSS, the participants were recruited from the participants of the Satellite Design Contest. After UNISEC was established, the laboratories joined in UNISEC participated in USSS.

Our university was suggested to participate in USSS in August 1999 when we passed the first review of the Satellite Design Contest. We disccued about this suggestion and decided to participate in USSS with a new satellite mission other than the mission proposed for the Satellite Design Contest.

At USSS, Prof. Nakasuga (University of Tokyo) and Prof. Matunaga (Tokyo Institute of Technology) suggested to participate in the field experiment of CanSat "ARLISS", and we decided to try to CanSat. At the same symposium, Prof. Twiggs of Stanford University proposed the concept of CubeSat. We planed to start the development of CubeSat as the next step after the accuisition of the basic technology through the development of CanSat.

Our original objective of USSS is to start some collaborative development with US university, and we participated in USSS until 2004. We could not develope anything with US university in the result. However, we started the CanSat project and CubeSat project, which contines even now. This is the most important outcome for us.

CanSat project & ARLISS

CanSat project was proposed at 1st USSS in 1998 by Prof. Twiggs of Stanford University, and was originally aimed for development and launch of CanSat in real space. However, they thought that it was difficult to launch CanSats without any proven in space, so they changed the plan so that CanSat is launched to 4km altitude by a model rocket, released from the rocket and deploys the parachute, and conducts its mission during the flight. Thus CanSat is a simulation of real nano-satellite. The first launch of CanSat was conducted at Black rock desert in Nevada, USA in the summer of 1999, which was the first ARLISS.

Our laboratory participated in the second ARLISS in 2000. We conducted the experiment of the BBM of "SEEDS" in ARLISS2002, the BBM of "SPROUT" in ARLISS2006. Thus we utilized the opportunities of launch of CanSat as a step of development og nano-satellites. We have not participated in ARLISS since 2011 because we have been developing real satellite, but we hope we will come back to ARLISS and investigates thouroughly haw to make success of CanSat missionin ARLISS.

Nano-Satellite SEEDS

CubeSat was proposed in the group discussion during the second USSS in 1999. In the discussion, Prof. Twiggs proposed to make 10cm cubical satellite with 1kg weight. That's the beginning of the history of CubeSat. At first, it was called S3sat (S cube sat) that was the abbrreviation of Student, Study, and Satellite. After USSS, the named was changed to "CubeSat".

One of the member of our laboratory had joined the discussion. He maybe influenced by the atmosphere?, and talked to us "Let us make our own satellite'". That's the beginning of our CubeSat. Off couse it was difficult to make a real satellite without any experience, so that we participated in ARLISS2000 and tried to make the CanSat mission success. After ARLISS2000 in summer and USSS2000 in autumn, we got serious about the development of CubeSat. In USSS2000, we proposed a mission to extend an inflatable tube from a 1U CubeSat (right figure). As shown below, the mission of SEEDS was change to be quite simple one, but it is emotional that SPROUT tried to deploy a triangular membrane with two inflatable tubes.

Our CubeSat project started in FY2001, but we did not have the skill to develop the bus system of the satellite, e.g. we could not make the tele-communication system using a micro controller and a transmitter. So we got the basic skill through ARLISS2001 and moved forwardt to the CubeSat project with full power. The name of the satellite was determined "SEEDS" (Space Engineering Education Satellite). We conducted the experiment of the BBM of SEEDS in ARLISS2002. The experiment was failed because of the trouble of the rocket, but we confirmed the system of the BBM after we came back to Japan. Thus we got on base of the development of SEEDS in the ARLISS.

Nonetheless, we was wandaring in the fog because the gap between CanSat and real satellite was too large. Actually, this gap is not so large (or rather close) for those who experienced the development of satellite, but is too large for the begineer of the satellite development.

After that, we manufactured the first engineering model of SEEDS, EM-1, in the beginning of 2003, and tested the system (right figure). The EM-1 was not reached to the level of engineering model, so that we had to modify the desgin. Honestly, the member was wondering whether we could develop the satellite that would work well in space, or they (including faculties) could not understand what the system workin in space is, and they spent beleaguered days. In the meanwhile, University of Tokyo team and Tokyo Institute of Technology team launched their cubeSats successfully in June 2003. We refereed their results, got the support from UNISEC, and developed the second EM (EM-2). In those days, we felt the pressure "Can Nihon University actually develp and launch their satellite?" from the people around us, but proceeded the development by using such a pressure as springboard.

The coordination of the piggy back launch by California Polytechnic State University (CalPoly) was discussed around that time, and we exchanged the MOU with CalPoly in December 2003. Honestly, this was a bet for us because we had not developed the engineering model yet.

The design of EM-2 was carried on into M1 and M0 students by M2 students, and EM-2 was manufactured at the end of FY2003. Actually, M2 students prevailed on three M0 students and left SEEDS to the younger students. At that time, the FM of SEEDS was planned to be exported in July, which means there was little time for the development of FM.

In FY2004, we conducted the electrical test, vibration test, thermal test, and communication test. It was around June that we feel confident about the development of the flight model. We had many troubles in the test of EM-2 at the beginning. There were lots of cries of distress such as "Impossible!", "magnetometer doesn't work"", but we fixed the bug one by one, and got to the feeling that it might be good.

Around that time, the date of the export was confirmed to the end of September, so we should manufacture FM as quickly as we could. But we made the PFM, which was almost same as the flight model except the on-board MPU was not soldered on the PCB, but the adapter was soldered and the MPU was removable. This was because the PCB of SEEDS was not designed so that the on-board software was rewrittable, which means that if we want to modify the on-board software, we haev to make the PCB again. Thus this model was not exactly PFM (proto flight model. The test of the PFM was mainly the check of the software, so we conducted the test quickly, and ordered the PCB of FM. That's extravagant in some way, but we could not be confident of our software, so we made the PFM between the EM and the FM.

After that, we fabricated the FM quickly, and tested the system functions, and completed the development of SEEDS in September. This flight model of SEEDS was so beautiful. The color of the solar cells was vermail, and the solar cell was navy, which was quite "Japannish".

Launch of SEEDS

SEEDS was exported to CalPoly in September 2004. We passed the acceptance test at CalPloy (fit-check with the separation system P-POD, vibration test, antenna deployment test, and the bake out were conducted). We believed that SEEDS would be exported to the Bikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, Russian space center, and launched by Dnepr in November. Despite our excpectation, the launch was postponed again and again because of the delay of the development of the primary satellite. During the postponed days, we went to CalPoly once a half year and charged SEEDS. Many people wondered wheter SEEDS would be really launched, but our member seemed to be confident and had a feeling like "do your best and leave the rest to Providence".

In June 2006, about two years later, SEEDS, nCube (Norway), and HAUSAT-1 (South Korea) were stored into the P-POD developed by CalPoly (right photo), and exported to Kazahkstan. This was the first launch of P-POD for CalPoly. Fourteen CubeSats (thirteen 1U CubeSats and a 2U CubeSat) were to be launched. The member who developed SEEDS were graduated at that time and the younger member were to go into the launch.

At 1:34 July 24, 2006 (4:34 in Japanese Standard Time), SEEDS was launched from the Bikonur Cosmodrome (right figure). Two laboratory member went to Kazahkstan bia Moscow and participated in the launch campaign. The participants were looking at the launch at the observation site, i.e. a small lodge about 7km far from the launch site. After the launch, the first engine of the rocket stopped with some trouble, and the rocket fell down at some place in Kazahkstan about 150km from the launch site.

Development of SEEDS-II

The launch failure was announced at the observation site. So the on-site member called on our member in the ground station of our university, and decided to launch the backup satellite after the refurbish. the member went back to Moscow in the next day, and e-mailed to University of Toronto. We decided to engage the coordination of the launch of our next satellite.

The launch was scheduled at June or July in 2007, so we proceeded the development of SEEDS-II quickly (below photos). There is no M1 member in our laboratory at that year, so the undergraduate member (B4) developed the flight model of SEEDS-II. They had only the experience of the development of CanSat for ARLISS and the experience of the Satellite Design Contest at that time, but they did develop SEEDS-II!

By the way, the official name is SEEDS-II, but we call it "SEEDS" because the first SEEDS did not reach into space and it is pronounceable.

The second SEEDS enhanced the amateur radio mission as well as the improvement of the PCB, the on-board software, and the ground station software. For example, SEEDS-II installed microfilms made from the pictures given by many people (below figure). The digi-talker function is expanded so that the voice transmission experiment can be conducted and the transmission of image data by SSTV is also available. This enhancement enabled us the outreach by using SEEDS-II. Thus we think we turned the launch failure of SEEDS positive. It must be noted that Yachiyo Microfilm Service helped us so much. We really appreciate his help.

Launch of SEEDS-II

SEEDS-II was exported to University of Toronto in June 2007. SEEDS-II passed the acceptance test, and kept in the clean room of University of Toronto because of the delay of the development of the primary satellite. SEEDS-II was exported to Satish Dawan Space Center in India in March 2008. Before that, we went to Toronto once for the battery charge and the system check of SEEDS-II.

In case of SEEDS, we could not touch SEEDS at Bikonur Cosmodrom, and we just waited for launch. On the other hand, in case of SEEDS-II, we conducted the final check (flight operation) at the clean room (not so clean?) in the launch site three weeks before the launch. At that time, we saw the flight operation of other satellite including the Cute1.7+APD of TokyoTech, which was quite valuable experience for us.

SEEDS-II was launched with ohter 9 satellites by PSLV-C9 rocket at 12:53:51 (local time) in April 28, 2008. The launch was successful. SEEDS-II is operated even now by the member of Satellite Lab.

The mission of SEEDS-II is quite simple, i.e. the verification of the bus system for CubeSat and the transmission of the voice and the SSTV signal using digi-talker. As for the verification of the bus system, we measures the temprature of 21 points in the satellite, the voltage and the current of solar cells, the voltage of the batteries, continues the house keeping, and analyze the attitude of SEEDS-II using the sensor data (gyros, magnetometer, solar cell voltage, and temperature). As for the digi-talker mission, we use SEEDS-II for outreach of the amateur radio and space engineering. You can see the operation status of SEEDS-II at the operation blog.

Development of SPROUT

After the success of SEEDS-II, we started the development of the combined membrane structure verification satellite SPROUT(Space Research on Unique Technology). SPROUT is a 20cm cubical satellite with 7.1kg weight. At the beginning of the development, we tried to design the satellite within 3kg, which was quite impossible plan. We could not make the desired progress on the development of SPROUT because the leve of the mission is much higher than that of SEEDS-II and the satellite system is much more complicated. Same as SEEDS, it was not easy to keep the motivation of the member high before the launch schedule was fixed. But the experience of the trial and error of the member during the three or four years from 2008 to 2011 contributed the success fo SPROUT.

SPROUT has the engineering mission and the amateur radio mission. The engineering mission contains of the space verification of the combined membrane structure that consists of two inflatable tubes and a membrane, the space verification of "rough" control of the attitude, and the estimation of the orbit descent rate by the deployment of the membrane. The amateur radio mission includes the transmission of the recorded voice by digi-talker, the loop back of the uplinked voice by digi-peater, the camera shooting and the transmission of the camera image data, and so on. We proceeded the design of SPROUT to achieve these mission.

We decided to use our original satellite deployer at the launch of SPROUT. We adopted "Jack-in^-the-box" type deployer like the above right figure. This type of deployer is often used for the deployment of CubeSats, e.g. the P-POD proposed by CalPoly around 2000, the T-POD to deploy Xi-IV by University of Tokyo in 2003, the X-POD by University of Toronto. Each university designed its original POD, i.e. the mechanism to open the door, the fix of the spring, and the separation velocity are unieque.

The mission of SPROUT is not limited by the orbit, but SSO (sun synchronous orbit) is better for the operation. The launch fee of foreign rockets got expencive. Considering such a situation, we decided to apply the piggy-back launch of Japanese H-IIA rocket. The opportunity of launch into SSO did not come until the launch of ALOS-II. The opportunity of the piggy-back launch with ALOS-II was announced by JAXA in February 2012 and we applied it. SPROUT was selected in March 2012. We were developing the BBM as in the right photo at that time. We devoted all our energies on the development of SPROUT after the selection.

We held the PDR in May 2012, and proceeded the verification of BBM and the development of EM in parallel. During this process, we received the safty review of Phase-0/I in August. We modified the design of the electric power sub-system and re-manufactured it so as to satisfy the requirement from H-IIA. EM has the same configuration as the real satellite, which is different from BBM. We encountered many problems that did not appear during the development of BBM, and took rather long time to fix them. The launch of ALOS-2 was originally scheduled in summer or autumn in 2013, but it was potponed. If the schedule was not changed, the development of SPROUT would fall into very difficult situation.

EM was almost completed after the difficult perioud, and we held CDR in may 2013. The purpose of our CDR is that all the member confirm the development status, review each other, share the information, and confirm the strategy of the development of FM. We compared each member's knowledge and the information with others. If those are in conflict with others, we should correct them.

JAXA's persons participated in CDR because SPROUT was going to be launched by H-IIA rocket. The SPROUT project member prepared for CDR with full of tension, and disccused on various issues. We classified the remaind task using EM, and determined the flow of the development of FM, and the task toward the safety review Phase-II.

After that, we started the development of FM, and passed the safety review Phase-II in September 2013. Thus our remaind task was only to complete FM!

After various environmental test, we conduceted the long-term operation test in March 2014 (actually not so "long"), and completed SPROUT and N-POD. We conducted the final vibration test and were ready for delivery SPROUT to JAXA in March 31, 2014 (the end of FY2013).

Launch of SPROUT

We passed the review to check the launch compatibility at JAXA, and delivered SPROUT to JAXA Tsukuba Space Center. After that, we prepared for the initial operation, and we reached the launch day, May 24 2014.

We held the public viewing of launch of SPROUT for students in our college and neighborhood, and watched the launch together. Mr. Mita (M2 student) went to Tanegashima (launch site) and attended the launch. Mr. Ainoura who was the original member of the development of BBM of SPROUT and is working for MEXT also attended the launch. Atually many alumni of our laboratory worked for ALOS-2 or other piggy-back satellites.

H-IIA-24 was launched at 12:05:14 successfully. We received the report from foreign amateur peole at first, and our ground station also received the signal from SPROUT. We confirmed that SPROUT was deployed from N-POD and the electric power was turned on. We confirmed that SPROUT received the uplink command from our ground station at the daytime path in the next day. Thus we confirmed that SPROUT was working well as a satellite.

Now SPROUT is under operation and achieving the mission. We conducted the membrane deployment mission in June 23 2014. The detail is reported in the web page of SPROUT.

Development of NEXUS

Just a few month before SPROUT was selected as a piggy-back satellite of H-IIA, several undergraduate students (sophmore and junior students) offered to develop a 1U CubeSat by theirselves and launch it. They determined the mission of that sattelite as the technology demonstration of the camera system that was planned to be installed in SPROUT and decided to challenge the establishment of the technology succession in student satellite project. Around those days, we heard that some JAMSAT people were developing a fast transmitter and a transponder for CubeSat. So we decided to develope the satellite with JAMSAT. The satellite was named "NEXUS" that means "Next Education X Unique Satellite". NEXUS has four antennas for the tele-communication between the bus system and the ground station, and for the transponder. The camera system has much higher peformance than SPROUT.

Fesh student program

The technology succession issue becahse apparent during the development of SPROUT in the early phase around 2010. The graduate students started a program for fresh students that includes the lecture on the design of satellite and circuit board, the workshop on the manufacturing of the PCB, development of CanSat, and the field test of CanSats using captive balloon. The detail is written in the following paper:

This program consists of three stages. The first Stage includes the lecture and the workshop on the manufacturing of PCB. The second stages is a group work on the development of PCB. The third stage is the CanSat project. Thus the fresh students can get thebasic knowledge and skill on satellite development step by step. The program was established in FY2010, and the member who took the program are now the main member of NEXUS and SPROUT.

Generally, such a program becomes something like a routine work and monotonous after a few years, and can not adapt to the change of the society. Therefore, we continues the trial and error every year keepin the basic cencept of our laboratory "investigate by oneself, think by oneself, decide by oneself, and challenge by oneself".

CUrrent status (December 12, 2015)

Our laboratory is operating SEEDS-II (later phase) and SPROUT (steady operation phase), and developing NEXUS. We conducted the membrane deployment mission that is the main mission of SPROUT in June 2015. We are going to conduct the amateur radio mission. We will carried out them steadily. We have no plan after these project now. That depends on the member of Satellite lab.

Satellite Lab is reorganized into one of the labs in "Koukuu Uchuu Kobo" (which means Aerospace Laboratory). We prepare for such environment that young students can attend the activities related to satellite development. We are now going to change our method to develope the satellite so that we do not manufacture the bus system from the scratch but we buy the bus components and focus our energies on the development of mission system.

Our laboratory is interested in deployable space structure, so that the mission of our satellite will concerned with the deployable space structure. We will change the situation so that students can develop the satellite in other laboratories if they are interested in the satellite development but are not interested in deployable space strucrure and want to achieve other mission.

Based on such a concept, we are proceeding the project "Formation of Center for Research and Development of Advanced Deployable Structure Pioneering Innovative Space Science" that is supported by Coordination Funds for Promoting AeroSpace Utilization, MEXT.

College of Science and Technology, Nihon University
Department of Aerospace Engineering
Space Structure Systems Laboratory
College of Science and Technology, Nihon University
7-24-1 Narashinodai, Funabashi, Chiba 274-8501, Japan
e-mail: asel (at) forth.aero.cst.nihon-u.ac.jp