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Design your own high-energy astrophysics mission: Further information

Design your own high-energy astrophysics mission: Further information

In this competition, you will work in a team to design a mission that aims to study some of the most energetic phenomena in the Universe. The mission design should cover everything that the spacecraft needs in order to fulfil the mission objectives. An outline of the minimum that you should include in your design project is provided below, along with links to a glossary and other relevant information.

Team work – bringing the mission together

In a real-world space mission, several specialist teams work on different aspects of the project. In such a situation, it is a challenge to ensure that the final project works as a single system perfectly and to make sure that it is completed on time and within the allocated budget.

You are required to work in a team to complete your mission design project, organising and planning it such that tasks are divided up among the different team members. Make sure that team members are given project responsibilities that match their individual skills.

You will also need to assign to one team member the responsibility to make sure that everyone in the team keeps to the schedule outlined at the beginning of the project. Communication and documentation are also important aspects of the project - real-world mission teams are asked to regularly report on the progress of their portion of the project. Do not forget to assign a team member to document your project properly in preparation for the poster that will eventually be submitted as your entry into the competition.

Science aims and objectives

Before beginning work on the mission design, your team must decide on the mission’s science aims and objectives.

Aims: this should briefly state what you want to learn, discover, test or prove.
Objectives: here you must describe how you will go about achieving your aim, what you will study and how.

Spacecraft subsystems

The different parts of a spacecraft are known as its subsystems. When designing the subsystems individually, keep in mind that the spacecraft must eventually function seamlessly as one system. An overview of generic subsystems, their function and a link to the relevant entry in the glossary is given below:

Subsystem Function
Payload The subsystem of the spacecraft that is designed to fulfil the science aims and objectives, the payload consists primarily of the scientific instruments that collect data from the astronomical objects under study. Your eventual science objectives and the type of astronomical objects you need to observe to achieve these objectives must determine the type of instruments you include. See Payload module
Attitude and Orbit Control System (AOCS) The AOCS helps the spacecraft attain the correct orbit, point in the required direction and hold steady during observations. See Attitude and Orbit Control System.
Propulsion The propulsion subsystem helps the spacecraft attain and maintain the required orbit. See Space basics: Propulsion on the ESA Education website.
Telecommunications The communications link with Earth is maintained via the telecommunications subsystem
Data handling Data storage and initial processing is the function of the data handling subsystem. It stores the information from the payload, the different spacecraft subsystems as well as commands received from Earth. See Data handling system
Power Electrical power to all spacecraft subsystems is provided via the power subsystem. See Solar Array
Thermal control The thermal control subsystem maintains the temperatures within the spacecraft so that the payload and subsystems operate optimally. See Thermal control system


You will need to decide what type of orbit the spacecraft will be placed in. Common orbits from which spacecraft are operated and examples of missions that use them are:

Low Earth Orbit (LEO) – the Space Shuttle, the International Space Station, the Hubble Space Telescope
Highly Eccentric Orbit (HEO) – Cluster, INTEGRAL, XMM-Newton
Geostationary Earth Orbit (GEO) - Meteosat, communications satellites

Launch vehicle

To reach orbit, you will need to choose an appropriate launch vehicle. Information about the European launcher, Ariane, and other launchers operated from Europe’s spaceport can be found at the following links:

Booklet about launchers
Overview of launchers on the ESA web portal

Name and logo design

Naming your mission and designing a mission logo will give your mission an identity and enable those outside of your team to recognise it.

Commonly, mission names are acronyms that, when spelt out, tell you what the mission is about. For example, INTEGRAL stands for the INTEnational Gamma-Ray Astrophysics Laboratory. Other missions are named after famous persons that have made historic contributions to the sciences, normally related to the aims and objectives of the mission. ESA’s Herschel infrared space observatory is once such mission, named after Sir William Herschel, who demonstrated the existence of infrared light in 1800. Both he and his sister Caroline Herschel were pioneering astronomers.

Last Update: 1 September 2019
15-Jul-2024 12:02 UT

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