LIST Launches Experiment To Harvest Space Energy

LIST CubeSat project team and partners. (© LIST).

The Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST) has announced the launch of its innovative CubeSat project, LIST-SAT-01, harvesting heat fluctuations in space, into electrical energy.

The CubeSat will house three distinct technologies developed, a pyroelectric energy harvester that converts heat modulation in space into electrical power, a super black coating that absorbs and emits thermal radiation efficiently, and inkjet printed sensors that monitor the spacecraft’s thermal conditions. By absorbing solar radiation and emitting heat during eclipse periods, this system seeks to provide a more efficient alternative to traditional photovoltaic panels (used to produce electricity directly from the sun). The project aims to demonstrate how these technologies can work together to enhance energy harvesting in space.

The mission’s primary objective is to test and enhance the technologies developed at LIST, thereby increasing their technology readiness level (TRL) and establishing flight heritage. “This project brings together complementary expertise and skills of different teams within the department of materials (MRT) of LIST,” said Jérôme Polesel, technology and innovation manager at LIST and scientific coordinator of the project. This initiative marks the first nanosatellite project from Luxembourg featuring an in-house scientific experiment aimed at showcasing LIST’s “top of the line” technology in space. 

”As the satellite orbits the Earth, its orientation will vary, sometimes facing the sun, receiving solar radiant heat, and at other times obscured during an eclipse, allowing it to cool down. We will leverage this temperature modulation to harvest energy.”

Olivier Bouton, project manager.

Advanced technologies onboard

The three technologies developed by LIST, will be equipped on the CubeSat, each serving a crucial role in the mission. “As one of the first scientific Luxembourgish nanosatellites, the initiative aligns perfectly with the materials department’s strategic initiative’s “flagship demos” objective, which focuses on highly ambitious real-scale demonstrations of advanced end-products,” said Polesel.

The first is a pyroelectric energy harvester, designed to convert the heat fluctuations experienced in space into electrical power, thereby providing a sustainable energy source. The second technology is a super black coating, which acts as a perfect blackbody to optimally absorb and emit thermal radiation, enhancing the satellite’s ability to manage heat efficiently. Lastly, the CubeSat will incorporate inkjet-printed thermal sensors, strategically placed on various parts of the spacecraft. 

These sensors are essential for monitoring the thermal conditions and performance of the payload experiment in the space environment. Together, these technologies aim to demonstrate a sophisticated energy harvesting system capable of operating effectively in the challenging conditions of space. The project’s goal is to showcase the combined performance of these technologies within a single energy harvesting system. 

The nanosatellite

Central to the CubeSat project is a nanosatellite weighing 1.2 kilograms, equipped with a thermal energy harvester featuring pyroelectric materials. This innovative technology recently earned the prestigious European Research Council (ERC) advanced grant. “The scientific goals of the CubeSat project revolves around demonstrating the technology of an energy harvesting system. The satellite will harvest energy from temperature cycles induced by its orbit.” said Olivier Bouton, project manager.

“It is the first time that such energy harvesting technology will be implemented in a satellite, aiming to synergize our different know-hows.”

Jérôme Polesel, technology and innovation manager at LIST

Collaborative research efforts

The CubeSat project represents a collaborative research effort involving four key partners. LIST serves as the project coordinator, with significant contributions from the University Space Center Montpellier (CSUM) in France. The project also involves the participation of Radio Amateur Club F8KGY ARRT (Thionville, France) and ADRAD Kayldall LX9AK (Rumelange, Luxembourg) for maintaining radio communication between the CubeSat and the ground station.

“It is the first time that such energy harvesting technology will be implemented in a satellite, aiming to synergize our different know-hows. This flagship project is truly a big source of motivation for our technical staff,” said Polesel. CSUM brings its expertise in designing, developing, testing, and operating nanosatellites, as well as project management and product assurance tailored to university space projects. The satellite will be built on their established space-qualified platform.

CubeSat timeline 

The CubeSat project was initiated in September 2023 and is scheduled for launch in January 2026. The project timeline includes several critical phases, the first being system definition and specification in 2023-2024, where the fundamental design and requirements are established. The second, production and debugging in 2024-2025, involving the actual construction of the CubeSat and rigorous testing to identify and fix any issues, and qualification tests in late 2025, which will ensure the satellite meets all necessary standards and is ready for space conditions.

Following the launch, the mission will operate in space for at least one year, during which the technologies will be tested and monitored to achieve the project’s objectives.

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