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Learning through research: how do they study space at Samara University

Students and postgraduates of the university participate in scientific research, as well as develop, construct and launch spacecraft

Studying at a university has long been more than just attending lectures and passing the exams. In many professional fields, trends and working methods tend to run ahead of the theoretical background studied by university students. This is what forces the world’s leading universities to focus on practical studies. Samara National Research University named after academician S. P. Korolev (or Samara University for short) represents a real embodiment of such approach indeed. Undergraduate and postgraduate students of this university are being actively involved in space industry projects and related scientific experiments: they even launch their own satellites.

Remote sensing

Back in 1980s, the specialists of the Samara University (back then, it was known as Kuibyshev Aviation Institute or KuAI) started developing their own spacecraft. In 1989, first "Pion" satellites entered orbit to explore the upper atmosphere. Six satellites of this type were launched between 1989 and 1992.

In April 2016, Vostochny Cosmodrome saw the launch of satellite Lomonosov together with small spacecraft Ayist-2D developed and constructed through the joint efforts of the scientists from Samara University and the engineers from the Progress Rocket and Space Centre.

Ayist-2D was designed for scientific experiments and remote sensing of the Earth. The in-built scientific equipment allows it to study the qualitative influence caused by space environment on the scientific and technological experiments, explore micrometeoroids and space debris, and much more.

After four years of Ayist-2D’s operation, the specialists from the RSC Progress have photographed more than 8 600 routes. Cartography is the key sphere to which the resulting data applies. For example, the resulting space imagery is being sent to Priroda research and production centre and used for topographical map refinement.

Apart from that, remote sensing data is being used by the Ministry of Forestry, Environmental Protection and Nature Management of Samara Region. It helps in detecting illegal mining and solid waste dumps. The Ministry of Communications and Information Technologies of Kirov Region has been using the data obtained from Ayist-2D for the same purposes. Moreover, the said information came in handy when assessing forest damage as well as monitoring and dealing with wild growing plants noxious weeds at arable lands.

Nano-class spacecraft

Scientists from Samara University and the United Institute of Informatics Problems, National Academy of Sciences (Belarus) (UIIP-NASB) plunged into collaborative development of the ways and means of using nano-satellites for exploring Earth’s ionosphere. The ionosphere is the part of Earth’s atmosphere which is saturated with charged particles due to its exposure to cosmic rays. The concentration of these particles influences radio-wave propagation and, as a consequence, affects the efficiency of various technical systems, including space navigation and communications.

The development of methods and means of processing and transforming the data coming from GLONASS and GPS systems is necessary in order to build dynamic models of the ionosphere state. In the future, this will help to improve the reliability and accuracy of both spacecraft and ground vehicles. On top of that, better understanding of certain ionospheric processes and phenomena will open new possibilities for use of promising information transmission technologies.

"The study of wave processes alongside with the detection of local electronic density fluctuations is to be undertaken. This will expand our knowledge about the mechanics underlying the processes taking place in the ionosphere", - Igor Belokonov, head of the interuniversity space research department, Doctor of Technical Sciences at Samara University, who heads up the project, emphasizes - "This is the first joint project involving Russian and Belorussian scientific communities to be conducted in Samara University. The results obtained under this grant project would be called upon during the practical implementation of the consortium of Russian universities under the aegis of Samara University aimed at the creation of a constellation of nano-satellites purposed at the ionosphere exploration".

This collaborative research project is not the only nanosatellites-oriented program to unfold in the walls of Samara University. For instance, a research lab called "Advanced fundamental and applied nanosatellite space research" was established within the framework of a project carried out by the scientists from Samara University and Lebedev Physics Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences (LPI RAS).

It is assumed that the lab will establish scientific and technical foundations for creating small-sized scientific research equipment usable in space experiments in the field of near-Earth environment control and solar activity monitoring.

The research will be carried out both in the spheres of fundamental science and engineering. The planned work is aimed at the development of ways and means of near-Earth space exploration with the help of nano-class spacecraft. "In addition to Sun research this grant program presupposes the exploration of geophysical fields, that is, both the geomagnetic field and the ionosphere. The construction of two prototype research nanosatellites is planned: first one late in 2021, and the second one in 2023", - Igor Belokonov, the appointed head of the lab, explained.

The idea is that more than 30 scientists - including those from LPI RAS, Samara branch of the Research Institute of Radio Engineering, Ulyanovsk State University and the Institute of Applied Physics of the RAS - will work together in this lab. Students enrolled in bachelor’s and magister’s degree courses at the chair of space research will be welcome to participate in the program as well.

Devices for tailed and winged "cosmonauts"

Scholars from Samara University have been participating in construction and development of scientific equipment assigned for the Russian biology research satellite Bion-M2. Purposed for research in biomedicine, gravitational biology and biotechnology, this orbital laboratory is under construction at the Progress Rocket and Space Centre in Samara. It is expected that mice, fruit-flies and seeds of various plant species will be sent to orbit for experiments. Subject to testing will be not only biological but also technical objects, say, semiconductors and semiconductor devices.

 "Specialists from Modeling Problem and Management Research Institute at Samara University are developing Carbon-2, MRI-2 and Sigma-2 scientific research devices. This equipment will be needed to carry out ten technological and biomedical experiments at the orbital laboratory", - Liubov Kurganskaya - PhD in Physics and Mathematics and the lead researcher for the Mathematical Modeling and Research Institute - specified.

According to her explanation, Carbon-2 device will make it possible to examine the influence of open space-related factors on characteristics and parameters of various semiconductive instrumental structures. Carbon-2 will measure and record electrophysical and optical parameters, as well as volt-ampere, voltage-capacitance and other characteristics of samples that will be put to open space during the flight. MRI-2 device is designed to maintain certain temperatures needed inside each of the research equipment containments, whereas Sigma-2 will allow for onboard microbiological research and experiments with invitro cells. The device will be also instrumental in the exploration into the effect of space flight upon seeds and cell tissues of medical, rare and crop plants. Experimental setup is also being prepared by scholars and specialists from Samara State Medical University, Institute of Biomedical Problems of the RAS, Dynasty Medical Centre (Samara) and Samara Research Institute of Agriculture named after N.M. Tulaikov.

Bion-M biosatellite model ITAR-TASS / Marina Lystseva
Bion-M biosatellite model
© ITAR-TASS / Marina Lystseva

Research equipment for Bion-2M satellite is being designed by the Space Instruments Engineering Institute of Samara University. For instance, three Monitor multiple sensor units will measure acceleration, temperature, pressure and magnetic field intensity inside the lander, whereas navigator receivers will derive Bion’s three-dimensional position of SSMC-2 (Space system of micro-acceleration compensation-2) complex will make it possible to check the micro-acceleration compensation algorithms and allow for more accurate spacecraft movement dynamics estimation during the orbital flight.

"Scientists are very eager to get more data concerning the micro-acceleration level and movement dynamics during space flight, descent and landing of a spacecraft. It’s very important to know how biological objects behave in extreme conditions, and what impact do they suffer when a spacecraft lands or is being launched", - Mikhail Kalaev, senior researcher at the Space Engineering Institute, emphasized.

Samara University is also a co-executor in the project aimed at the development of one of the most important instrumental complexes to be installed on board of the space laboratory that is being currently constructed, namely, the life-support system (LSS). "The control and commutation unit we are currently designing serves as a sort of a brain for the LSS. It will be constantly controlling and monitoring oxygen supply, as well as carbon dioxide and ammonia extraction. The unit will provide for gas mixture ventilation and control temperature and pressure inside gas cylinders fetched to the spacecraft’s hull. The system will also be recording all the changes, that is, keeping a sort of logbook with all the data about how do these small living "cosmonauts" live and breathe while flying onboard", - Dmitry Rodin, senior researcher at the Institute of Space Instrumentation at Samara University, noted.