In the recent years, the space research activity has been characterized by the large number of university small satellites that have been built and launched. On one side, this allows the direct participation of students to a real space project, on the other side, being these projects characterised by short development times, it offers to scientists frequent opportunities to fly new experiments at a very low cost. In the II Faculty of Engineering of the University of Bologna, the Aerospace group in Forlì has started in 2003 a new microsatellite research program.
The first ALMASat (ALma MAter SATellite) demonstration mission is due for launch in the February of 2012 on board the VEGA Maiden Flight in Kourou, French Guyana. Among the possible future applications, there is the use of an enhanced ALMASat bus for a microsatellite Earth Observation mission (ALMASat-EO), recently funded by the Italian Ministry of Research (MiUR). As a first step, a fully automated amateur radio ground station has been designed and installed in the faculty labs and is operational since September 2003.
At the same time, the faculty staff, PhD and graduate students are directly involved in the satellite design, manufacturing and assembly, and will also take care of the spacecraft operations in orbit. The satellite weights about 12.5kg and consists of a cubical prism, 300mm side, with a modular structure made of six shop-machined Al trays, kept together by eight stainless steel bars. Four Al/Al honeycomb lateral panels, which are the support structure of glued solar panels, complete the satellite structure. This architecture has been selected in order to have a multi-purpose bus, to be used with minor changes for several missions, accommodating payloads with different volume and power requirements.