Friday 28 October 2016

Introducing our new Telescope

Since we were awarded the second prize during the Launch Campaign in Santa Cruz, we were lucky enough to receive a telecope as a donation for our school's physics department.

Tonight, we took the opportunity of a school event to finally assemble and test it.

These are some impressions of our observations.

Cologne is quite a light-polluted city, so we weren't able to see too many stars. Nevertheless, we had a lot of fun observing the stars that were visible as well as some less celestial objects. The right photo shows a close-up of one of the towers of Cologne Cathedral, one of the region's most well-known landmarks.

Sunday 10 July 2016


We have just submitted the CFP, or "CanSat Final Paper", the last piece of documentation of our work at the CanSat-competition. This report is structured in a very similar way to a scientific project manuscript. Its purpose is the presentation and discussion of our scientific findings as well as the overall outcome of the project.

In the weeks to come, all CFPs will be published at ESA's website, we'll provide links as soon as possible.

At this moment in time, we are still in close contact to AATiS e.V. who provided the construction kit for our gas chromatograph. In the next months, they will publish two reports about our project as well as the modulation of their gas chromatograph and the measurement of humidity. We will keep you updated about the process.

Sunday 3 July 2016

Day 5 - Farewell and a Trip to Lisbon

Today was our very last day in Portugal. Given that there was no predefined schedule or obligations by the organisers of the competition and that our flight took off only in the late afternoon, we decided to spend this day in Lisbon, walking around the city and enjoying ourselves.

We finally had the opportunity of meeting and saying goodbye to some of the other teams who we would really like to meet again one time. Thanks a lot to all the awesome people we got to know during these five days of stress and thrills, but also of a lot of teamwork and fun!

Saturday 2 July 2016

Day 4 - Final Presentations and Award Ceremony

After a long night of gas chromatography and launch campaign analysis, the final presentations of each team's CanSat work and the results of their launches took place this morning and early afternoon. Having been randomly scheduled as the first team to present in front of all the other teams as well as the jury, we were firstly really nervous. After some minutes of error and data analysis, there were some comments from the jury, especially regarding our antenna and data transmission that had failed during the launch campaign for the first time since our German launch.

Although we were content with our own presentation, during the thirteen ones to come, we realised that each single team here had won their national competition for a reason. All missions were so advanced and carried out so precisely that they definetely impressed us a lot.


Some hours later, there was the prize giving and closing ceremoy. After several speeches, the winners of this year's European CanSat commpetition were finally announced:

3rd prize for the Irish team "Confey Can"
2nd prize for us, "URSinvestigators" from Germany!!
and 1st prize for Portugal's  "ENTA Team SAT 2"

We are really happy, thankful and proud, of course, to be ranked European "vice-champions"! We'd also like to congratulate the other teams whose joy we definetly share because we know that they all did a great job and really deserve their succes.

In the end, we would like to say THANK YOU:

On the one hand, to our sponsors and parters who supported us with material and advice that were essential for us to achieve build up our performance.

To ESA, the jury and the local organisers at the airfield of Santa Cruz who gave us the possibility of participating in this awesome competition and of gaining all the experience that we have collected so far.

On the other hand, to the great people we spent these days with. Enlisting them all would go beyond the scope here, but we are very thankful to have got to know them much more than for mere professional cooperation.

And, most importantly, to our supervising teachers Mr Servos and Mrs Censarek who not only helped us out whenever we needed them and gave us advice in any imaginable way, but also grew to be an inseperable part of our team as such. Special thanks also to Mrs Springer who stood in Portugal for Mrs Censarek who sadly could not be with us this week.


We are very thankful that during the last one and a half years, all of us had a great time that we possibly won't ever forget. Our sincere gratitude goes to everyone who was, in any way, part of this journey.

Friday 24 June 2016

Day 3 - The Launch Campaign

The day we had all awaited and worked towards had finally come. Having made the last preparations such as attaching the parachute to the satellite´s rods as well as tensely assembling our CanSat for the very last time, we were ready to leave for the launch. 

It seemed as if the weather conditions, namely a thick cloud cover at a low height as well as unfavorable  wind gusts, wanted to prevent our satellites´missions from being  carried out. The launch was delayed several times, which let our nervousness arise to an almost unbearable level. Nevertheless, we pretty much enjoyed spending time with the other teams whilst waiting.

Having passed the satellite´s last check, it turned out that we were to be the last team whose satellite would be launched with a rocket.

During the pre-launch, we already had to face the first problem as we were not able to properly align our antenna due to the steep descent to the rocket´s starting place, which we were able to solve by using a table increasing our antenna´s mobility.

The start signal sounded and we couldn’t help but watch the rocket disappear in the cloud cover, whilst detecting that we hardly received any data. We were not able to accurately track the satellite due to the missing mobility of our antenna as well as the impossibility to make out our CanSat´s position. During the landing, we finally received data again despite the long horizontal distance which allowed us to hand out it´s location measured be the GPS.

Since a successful recovery is crucial for our secondary mission, we were relieved when hearing that we were about to receive out satellite in the evening.

A long night including the analysis of any received data and the failure of our antenna as well as the gas chromatograhical analysis is ahead of us since the outcome of our mission is to be revealed in tomorrow´s final presentation.  

Thursday 23 June 2016

Day 2 - Test Flight and Initial Presentation

After the opening ceremony that took place this morning, we started to do the last preparations for our test flight. Before the test flight, each CanSat had to be completely mounted. There was also a safety briefing that made sure that everyone followed the most important directives, like the maximum height and diameter of the CanSat.

During the test flight itself, each team was expected to put up their ground support equipment in order to try and receive data from their CanSat. A so-called Flight Test Student Engineer was then flying in a sailplane and dropped the CanSat from a height of about 100m (the picture below shows ours as well as the UK's and Finland's Flight Test Student Engineer in front of the plane). Dependant on the outcome of this final test, each team got either a GO or a NO GO status. Those with a NO GO then had the opportunity of improving what went wrong and repeating the test.

Fortunately, we were able to receive our CanSat's data and could see very well that our parachute opened without any problems. The calculated descent rate was at 9.81 m/s which is perfectly following the directive of 8-11 m/s. The team that was responsible for the implementation of the test flights was as content as we were, so we got a GO at first attempt. Especially with last year's scenario of receiving no data at all at the back of our heads, this was very relieving.

In the afternoon, there was the initial jury presentation. Within five minutes, we had to present our team, mission, implementation, tests and everything else of importance. During the following five minutes of question and answer, especially our helix antenna and gas chromatograph attracted the jury's attention.

Tonight, we will be carrying out the very last preparations and finishing assembling our CanSat for the lauch that will take place tomorrow.

Wednesday 22 June 2016

Day 1 - Arriving at Santa Cruz

The adventure has begun!

Having been through a flight of three hours from Cologne to Lisbon as well as a one-hour bus ride, we finally arrived at our youth hostel in Santa Cruz, a small town 50km northern of Lisbon, at about five o'clock in the afternoon.

After check-in, we were glad to arrive at a very nice apartment that has a lot of space and thus enables us to work really efficiently and all simultaneously. There is currently some preparation work to do for our initial jury presentation as well as the test flight that will take place tomorrow.

The next step for us was the registration at the airfield where the launch as well as all of the presentations, pre- and post-flight work will take place.

We took dinner back at our hostel and had the opportunity of meeting some of the other teams, like the Finns, the Irish and the Poles. All of the others were really nice so that we are now looking forward not only to a lot of work to do but also to a great time together with great people.

Sunday 19 June 2016

Breakthrough of our Gas Chromatography

During the last few series of tests for our gas chromtography, our results were quite ambivalently satisfactory and dissatisfactory. On the one hand, there were clearly identifiable peaks that enabled us to recognise the connection between a large surface area for low air humiddity and a small surface area for high humidity. On the other hand, the modulation of our mobile phase (replacing air as the carrier gas by helium) made our base line appear less even. The better the baseline, the easier the following analysis of the peak. Consequently, most of our ambitions were ever since oriented towards a solution to this problem.

Firstly, we identified the cause of our problem itself. In order to plug our helium support into its aspiration port, we use urine bags. Their capacity as well as structure is overall perfectly suitable for our purpose. There is only one thing that we did not consider early on: The tube that we connect to the aspiration port includes a check valve. While this slows down the stream of helium which is good because of our limited supply in Portugal that is much smaller than the one in our huge gas bottle at school, it also makes the stream only a little inconsistent and therefore the baseline uneven.

We then considered possible solutions. While removing the check valve altogether would make our use of helium go beyond the scope of our local supply in Portugal, given also that there is most likely no change of purchasing a sufficient supply, and while replacing the carrier gas or storage again would not certainly lead to an improvement in performance, the only chance was for us to fool the mechanism.

We tried out threading a very tiny tube through the check valve with the idea of keeping the stream of helium constantly up, but at a very low volume-per-time rate. The following experiment delivered the best results that we had ever achieved. Measuring a much higher voltage than before, we were able to change the experiment's zoom view which made most unevennesses disappear. We then created several new series of tests that can now serve as a data basis in the time to come.

At this moment in time, we are finally really satisfied with our gas chromatography and are optimistic to have it work smoothly during our post-flight activities at Santa Cruz.

Thursday 16 June 2016

Presentation of our Gas Chromatograph

In terms of gaschromatographically analysing our air simples, we are currently preparing several series of tests tests after having finished building it (see previous post "Improving our Gas Chromatograph").  As we have never had a gas chromatograph at school before, students, teachers and especially chemistry classes are very interested in this part of our secondary mission. Thus, we took the opportunity of giving a short presentation and answering all the questions that they had.

Wednesday 15 June 2016

The final version of our Cansat's structural design is 3D printed!

Due to several printing errors as well as we measuring inaccuracies it was quite a long procedure to print our final mounting representing our structural design that is composed of 6 layers including 7 several parts that are stabalized by rods. The satellite´s CFK cover is to be cut to size as our sensors are placed at the border of the can which ensures realistic data measurements.The final structure enables us to directly reach several components. This has a far-reaching importance concerning the battery as an energy supply as well as our triggering mechanism that needs to be inspected at every juncture.

satellite, CFK case and parachute
printing the final layer of our CanSat
final structural design

Friday 10 June 2016

The Countdown has Begun

We are happy to be able to announce that the first part of our team - our antenna - is heading towards Portugal. We would like to thank "Molitor Speditions- und Handels- GmbH" for sponsoring the transport of this really important part of our ground support equipment.


Tuesday 7 June 2016

Improving our Gas Chromatograph

As mentioned before, we finished assembling and soldering our gas chromatograph some weeks ago so that it is now externally finished. Currently, we are testing and improving  it as well as adapting the mobile phase to our mission.

Gas chromatography uses the interaction of different chemical substances provoked by their chemical polarity or unpolarity. When a sample is injected, it meets two other substances. On the one hand, there is a inert or unreactive carrier gas, the mobile phase. The samples as well as the carrier gas stream through a column that contains the stationary phase, a microscopic layer of liquid or polymer on an inert solid support. Due to different intensities of the interaction of the individual substances of the sample and the stationary phase, these substances elute the column at a particular time for each compound. This retention time is characteristic of each substance so that  it is possible to investigate the composition of a sample as well as the quantity of the individual components based on this time.

Our own gas chromatograph is based on a self-construction kit made for educational purposes (e.g. chemistry classes at school) that suggests air as an inexpensive and easily accessible carrier gas. Obviously, this cannot work out for our mission of analysing an air sample. Consequently, we have replaced it by helium. Helium as an inert, unreactive and noble gas is usually the most commonly used carrier gas for gas chromatography. It is also very suitable for our particular analyse because air contains helium only as a trace gas with an amount of 0.000425% that is not that interesting for our particular investigation. Helium emerges at every radioactive alpha-decay. The tiny atom rises from the ground and as it is much more lightweight than the other components of the air, it can quickly escape the atmosphere and get into space. These circumstances make the gas quite irrelevant not only for our mission of investigating whether there is life "outside of earth", but also for someone observing the environment in the framework of climate change, air pollution and so on.

Having chosen helium as the carrier gas, we faced the challenge of adapting the gas chromatograph itself to the change of the mobile phase. While the stationary phase that is provided in the kit is unaffected of any modifications, the technical settings of the measuring device had to be adjusted. As the whole system is usually supposed to work with air, this constellation up to now has got the best performance in precision and error susceptibility. In the last time, we have experimented with different settings and are in close contact to the manufacturer of our self-construction kit so that we are now receiving pretty reliable chromatograms (although improvements are still to come). Using different equilibrium reactions involving calcium chloride, we prepared samples of different air humidity. When we measured the humidity with our sensor SHT15 and then compared it to our graphs, we were able to see a very clear tendency of a large surface area of the peak at low humidity and, the other way rund, a small surface area at high humidity. In the last few weeks before launch, we will expand this procedure and create more and broader series of tests in order to improve our experiment's scientific significance.

Thursday 2 June 2016

FDR and Team Interview

During the last time, we were busy drawing up, on the one hand, our Final Design Review (for a description of the CanSat design reviews, please see the previous post "Finishing our CDR") and, on the other, our team interview.

A "Meet the Team" section, including the team interview, can be found on ESA's website:

One question regarding the team's strenghts and weaknesses had to be answered in a video. Therefore, we created a YouTube channel (see Besides the video that is there already, we plan to upload several videos on our test plan as well as triggering mechanism.

Monday 30 May 2016


Today, we met and completed our parachute. After having finished sewing, we decided to add to the central hole several small ones. They are arranged circular around the central hole as this model of a round canopy parachute appears to have the best flight stability.

As there is no drag coefficent for parachutes of this design a calculation of the exact size of the parachute and the holes was not possible. Therefore, we developed a testing concept for measuring the air resistance with an air velocoty of 11 m/s.

Within the test, we drove with a convertible. We arranged an anemometer next to our parachute that was attached to a dynanometer, The latter one running with the CassyLab software. In the beginning our parachute had holes which surely would be too small. Within the test, we enlarged them until the air resistance was as big as needed.

The test was very succesful. This is what our parachute finally looks like: