August 29th, a historic day for Hasselt University. Aboard the SpaceX-CRS23, the unique diamond quantum magnetometer of the UHasselt student team OSCAR-QUBE flies to the space station ISS to map the magnetic field around the earth.
August 29th, a historic day for Hasselt University. Aboard the SpaceX-CRS23, the unique diamond quantum magnetometer of the UHasselt student team OSCAR-QUBE flies to the space station ISS to map the magnetic field around the earth. The student project was selected for this research within the Orbit Your Thesis! programme of the European Space Agency (ESA).
"An incredible honour for us as students. We can still hardly comprehend that the device we built is now on its way to space and will carry out measurements on board the ISS for ten months," says Jaroslav Hruby, team leader of the OSCAR-QUBE project. "We had to be patient for one extra day. Due to bad weather in Florida, the launch was postponed on Saturday, but this morning it happened. Watching the group count down and the SpaceX rocket take off was a fantastic experience!"
The students of OSCAR-QUBE won ESA's Orbit Your Thesis competition. Out of 10 participating European projects of university students, they were selected as the strongest candidate to perform their experiment on board of the ISS. "The OSCAR-QUBE project is the first project from the Orbit Your Thesis! education programme to be launched to the ISS," said Nigel Savage from the European Space Agency (ESA). "We are therefore very excited and proud to see the hardware now successfully launched, as designing, building and testing hardware for the ISS is a challenge even for the space industry. It is therefore inspiring to see how dedicated UHasselt students go through the programme so professionally and so quickly."
The OSCAR-QUBE magnetometer is the first diamond-based quantum magnetometer built by students that will perform measurements in space. The heart of the sensor is a synthetic diamond containing small atomic imperfections. "The diamond has quantum mechanical properties that allow it to perform ultra-sensitive measurements," says Prof Milos Nesladek, head of the Quantum Photonics research group IMO-IMOMEC (UHasselt/imec). His group developed a technique in 2015 to read out the signal captured by the diamond. That reading is done both optically and electrically. The optical measurement involves shining a green laser on the diamond, after which the diamond emits a red light (luminescence), while the diamond is subjected to microwaves. The changes in intensity of the red luminescence are crucial for the determination of the magnetic field surrounding the sensor. It is also possible to read out the magnetic field electrically. For this purpose, electrodes and an antenna were attached to the diamond surface in the clean room of the imec research centre. Under the influence of the green laser light and microwaves, current differences are created that can be read electrically to measure the magnetic field.
"We have gained a lot of experience with the development of our magnetometer over the years. In 2014, our team developed a device to study the Northern Lights in Sweden. Later, within ESA's REXUS/BEXUS project in 2018, one of the prototypes of our current magnetometer already flew with a stratospheric balloon to the edge of space. Now we are actually going into space to carry out our measurements. A dream come true", says doctoral student Remy Vandebosch of OSCAR-QUBE.
After ten months of research on board of the ISS, the magnetometer will return to earth. For this, OSCAR-QUBE could count on the financial support of UHasselt and imo-imomec, as well as Melexis, POM Limburg, Element Six, and SELECT SYSTEM. "We are extremely grateful to these sponsors. Their confidence in this project is a great support for us as a student team. When the magnetometer is back at UHasselt, we will give it a suitable place on our campus and hope to inspire students to think big. Because nothing is impossible if you work hard for it," says Musa Aydogan, master student of industrial engineering, of OSCAR-QUBE.
Two students from the OSCAR-QUBE team, who graduated from UHasselt last academic year, are already giving their space dream even more power. Engineering students Jeffrey Gorissen and Sam Bammens have been selected by ESA within the Young Graduate Trainee project. For the next two years, they will work at the European Space Agency. "Thanks to this project I am starting my career in the space industry, a dream come true," says Jeffrey Gorissen.
In October, OSCAR-QUBE will also participate in the student competition of the International Astronautical Congress in Dubai. This is the largest space event in the world. In the student competition, 18 teams from all over the world will participate. A delegation of OSCAR-QUBE will physically present their project in Dubai.
OYT! is an ESA educational project that is part of the ESA Academy programme for university students. The project aims to give students practical experience of the full life cycle of a real space project in order to better prepare and qualify them for a career in the European space sector.