Polish space activities in 2013 – review

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This article presents the most important achievements of the Polish space industry in 2013.

Without doubt the last 12 months have been very successful for the Polish space industry. This gives a positive outlook for the future. The list below describes the most important events of the past year.

1. BRITE-PL Lem in orbit!
The second Polish satellite, named BRITE-PL Lem, has finally reached orbit. The main goal of BRITE-PL Lem is to conduct precise measurements of the brightest stars in the sky. BRITE-PL Lem was launched on the 21st of November at 8:10 CET on the Russian-Ukrainian Dnepr rocket with more than 30 other satellites. The launch had been postponed several times due to various technical and political reasons, resulting in a delay of over one year.

Since its orbit insertion Lem is being prepared for the science phase of the mission, which should start at the beginning of February. The satellite is fully functional and communicates with ground stations (including one in Warsaw). As of early January 2014, all of subsystems are turned on and tested.

BRITE-PL Lem was built and tested at the Warsaw based Space Research Center of the Polish Academy of Sciences (CBK PAN). The successful mission start proves that CBK has the know-how and resources to lead a small satellite project from the beginning up to its orbital operations. It is expected that in the next few years a few other satellite projects will be conducted with the participation of CBK. BRITE-PL Lem is a part of the multinational BRITE consortium, which is planned to consist of six satellites: two from Canada, two from Poland and two from Austria.

Heweliusz, the second Polish BRITE constellation satellite will be launched in 2014. The reason for this delay is the recent failure of the Chinese CZ-4B rocket from the 10th of December. CBERS-3, a Chinese-Brazilian satellite was lost. Heweliusz and another satellite from Turkey was supposed to lift off on the next CZ-4B flight three weeks later. Now it is predicted that the launch will happen in Q1 of 2014.

2. First Polish contracts in ESA signed
Until the end of 2017 Poland will be in a “transition stage” in the European Space Agency (ESA). During this time 45% of the Polish mandatory ESA contribution will be spent on tenders named „Polish Industry Incentive Scheme”. In this competitions Polish entities will be able to submit proposals for projects and preparatory studies while competing only with other Polish entities. The programme is addressed mainly to the Polish industry, although national R&D institutes and academia can also participate.

On the 24th of October 2013 the first “Polish Industry Incentive Scheme” contracts were signed at the Ministry of Economy. For the first tender over 70 proposals were submitted and 31 were selected.

The aim of the „Polish Industry Incentive Scheme” is the further development of the Polish space industry and the creation of local „niche” solutions, which will become part of the European space sector. The next call is planned for the beginning of 2014.

3. Polish students’ successes at the University Rover Challenge
During the 2013 edition of the University Rover Challenge (URC) Polish teams scored the first and the second place. These places were won by students from the Wroclaw Technical University and Bialystok Technical University. The rovers, named Scorpio III and Hyperion, scored more points than any other team, including the American ones, which received technical support from NASA. This success is the reason why the first European edition of URC will be probably organized in Poland in 2014.

In 2013 there was also another Polish participation to a rover challenge, named Lunabotics Mining Competition, organized by NASA. In this challenge, a student team from the Warsaw Technical University scored the “Perseverance Award”. The team intended to participate with a rover named Husar, but due to unknown reasons the rover was “lost” while shipping by a courier. In result, the students decided to build another rover from the parts donated from other teams participating in the competition. The working rover, “White Eagle”, was accepted for participation.

4. Amateur and semi-professional activities
Over the last several years, the scope of amateur and semi-professional space-related activities has significantly expanded in Poland. 2013 was another year, during which various groups and individuals reached interesting goals.
 
Two of them – the Polish Rocketry Society (PTR) and the Copernicus Foundation have achieved interesting results. The PTR gathers Polish rocketry communities and the Copernicus Foundation conducts its own stratospheric balloon missions.

PTR conducted a series of hybrid propulsion rocket firings. The Society also performed various launches, including several supersonic. A special event, called “Festiwal Meteora – the Meteor festival” was held in September, during which 75 documented and 10-20 additional tests were conducted.

The Copernicus Foundation conducts a series of stratospheric missions, including ones for educational purposes. Copernicus develops its own “MiniSat” programme, which allows secondary school students to submit their proposals and build their own experiments or electronics for a stratospheric mission.

Major successes were also achieved by individual amateurs. For example, Mr Tomasz Brol from the city of Gliwice broke the Polish amateur record of stratospheric balloon max. altitude. His mission SEBA-2 reached 42650 meters. Mr Brol also attempted to reach the Pacific Ocean in late December and his balloon mission, SEBA-6, almost completed this goal.

5. Education initiatives
In 2013 students from the Warsaw Technical University announced the second CubeSat-class satellite mission – PW-Sat 2. This mission, intended to be launched in 2015, is going to be a CubeSat 2 U satellite equipped with a deorbiting sail and two cameras.

Since the entry of Poland to ESA, Polish students have much more opportunities to join the educational programs and projects of the agency. Until the end of 2012 Polish universities could participate to ESA education projects, but the Poland had to pay for it. This lead many times to financial problems, with the 2010 participation of Polish students to the ESMO project as the most known example.

The situation changed when Poland joined ESA. Now ESA is funding student travels to attend workshops, reviews or conduct experiments (for example during a launch campaign). Polish students and universities can now concentrate on educational matters – the project preparation and realization (if selected). This is a major change, which should result in a bigger number of Polish student experiment proposals.

An important event for the space-related outreach was the first place award given to dr Marcin Stolarski at the Polish FameLab competition organized by the Copernicus Science Center and the British Council. Dr Marcin Stolarski works on the BRITE-PL satellites at the Space Research Centre. He also regular publishes a series of videos called „BRITE-TV”, related to the BRITE-PL satellite project.

On the 8th of June 2013 at a military test site near the city of Torun, the first launch of an experimental two-stage rocket was conducted. The name of this rocket is Amelia 2,  an educational project constructed by the Rocketry Section of the Student’s Space Association from the Warsaw University of Technology. The main goal of the flight – the successful stage separation, was successfully achieved. Amelia 2 is a step towards the development of a small Polish sounding rocket, which would be able to deliver small payloads into the lower parts of the atmosphere. Further flights of Amelia 2 are planned for 2014.

6. Political issues
In 2013 a significant number of political activities related to the space sector was also noted. During the IV Innovation Forum in Rzeszow (May 2013) several politicians announced the initial work on the act establishing the Polish Space Agency. The next announcement came in December; at a press conference all major political parties informed about a joint act project, which aims to establish a national space agency. This entity is going to be named POLSA (POlish Space Agency).

Currently the Polish political circles seem to be fully supporting the further development of the space sector. However it is not certain that the situation will remain as this in the future. There is a risk that some political conflicts will arise once a more serious debate about POLSA begins, especially about its financing, competences, tasks and majors objectives to be reached. 

7. Kosmonauta.net
Last year was also a very successful one for Kosmonauta.net. In February 2013 our article number 5000 was published. Ten months later the next thousand articles followed. Our popularity also rose – today we experience as much as 80 thousand unique visitors per month.

Today the website is part of the Kosmonauta.net company, which intends to actively participate within the space industry. We have been working hard on other projects and have already gained some successes which we wish to present.

Since November 2013 we conduct our first contract for the European Space Agency. We are managing the Polish language website for ESA (http://www.esa.int/pol/ESA_in_your_country/Poland). Our work is contracted up to the end of 2014.

Kosmonauta.net is very active searching for potential space-related applications, which could be realised in Poland. Our first successes in this field are the following: two finalist prizes in Polish Galileo Masters 2012 and 4th place in Czech Galileo Masters 2013. Right now we are at various stages of implementing these ideas into development projects, which could end up as products introduced to the market.

In addition, in 2013, for the fourth time in a row, we have presented the results of our studies at the prestigious International Astronautical Congress (IAC). Each time our representatives attend to the IAC, new contacts are gained as well as experiences, which have already led to joint projects. 

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