SOAR (Satellite for Orbital Aerodynamics Research)

Animated video of SOAR


The Satellite for Orbital Aerodynamics Research (SOAR) is a 3U CubeSat that will study the residual atmosphere and associated gas-surface interactions in very low earth orbits (VLEO).

SOAR is part of the DISCOVERER project, a €5.7 million Horizon 2020 project led by The University of Manchester [1]. It aims to revolutionise Earth observation satellites by developing technologies to enable operations in very low earth orbits, with the benefit of making the satellites smaller, lighter & more economical [2].

The primary aim of the SOAR mission is to test and characterise new materials that can reduce the experienced drag and increase aerodynamic performance in low altitude orbits [3]. The satellite will also perform characterisation of the atmospheric flow and demonstrate novel aerodynamic attitude control manoeuvres.

Figure 1 Artist’s impression of SOAR in the maximum drag configuration


The Aerodynamics Payload, developed at the University of Manchester, features a set of fins that are coated with four different test materials and can be individually rotated to different incidence angles with respect to the oncoming flow. The fins will be folded and stowed against the spacecraft body for launch and are deployed once the satellite is in orbit to enable the interaction of the different test materials with the residual atmosphere to be investigated. The steerable fins will also be used as control surfaces to demonstrate novel aerodynamic control manoeuvres in orbit.

The Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer (INMS) developed by the team at University College London UCL – Mullard Space Science Laboratory (MSSL), is designed to measure the properties of the residual atmosphere and supports the investigation of drag-reducing materials by providing in-situ density, composition, and velocity data. The instrument will also provide new information about the variability of atmospheric drag effects, thermospheric chemistry, and the impact of space-weather on the upper-atmosphere.


SOAR is based on the a 3U CubeSat form factor (10 cm x 10 cm x 30cm) with an additional “tuna-can” and deployable aerodynamic fins. The total mass of the satellite is 3355.4 g.

The satellite platform is based on the heritage of previous GomSpace 3U and 6U components and systems. Command and Data Handling (CDH)is performed by a NanoMind A3200 OBC. A NanoCom AX100 UHF radio with NanoCom ANT430 turnstile antenna are used for uplink and downlink communications. The Electrical Power System (EPS) is comprised of a NanoPower P31uX board, NanoPower BP4 battery pack, and both NanoPower MSP500 and NanoPower P110 solar call assemblies.

Attitude Determination and Control Subsystem (ADCS)

The ADCS of SOAR is responsible for spacecraft pointing and stability and is controlled by a second NanoMind A3200 computer dedicated to this task. The system supports three control modes: sun pointing, ground station, and target tracking. For attitude determination, the system utilizes NanoSense FSS sun sensors, a NanoSense M315 magnetometer, an internal gyroscope (within the NanoMind A3200) and external EPSON M-G370 IMU for attitude determination. An internal magnetometer in the NanoMind A3200 also serves as a back up to the M315 for redundancy. The system relies on the Novatel OEM615 receiver along with an Invatek GPS antenna for orbit determination. For attitude control, four Astrofein RW1 reaction wheels in a tetrahedron configuration (providing a single wheel redundancy) are used along with the NanoTorque GST-600 magnetorquers. When appropriately configured, the steerable fins (aerodynamics payload) also grant the platform aerostability by generating restoring aerodynamic torques to keep the satellite pointing towards the oncoming flow direction.

Integration of the complete satellite including both payloads was managed and delivered by the team at GomSpace in Denmark.

Figure 2 Exploded view of the SOAR subsystems and payloads.
1) NanoCom ANT430
2) NanoTorque GST600
3) NanoPower P31u
4) NanoPower BP4 with HG2 cells
5) NanoMind A3200 & NanoCom AX100
6) NanoMind A3200, Astrofein WDE, Novatel 719
7) NanoUtil Stack Break Out w/ NanoSense M315 & EPSON G370
8) Astrofein RW-1
9) Aerodynamics Payload
10) ISIS 3U Structure
11) INMS Payload
12) Solar Array (MSP500 and P110)
13) Sensing GSSB Interstage
14) NanoUtil FPP
15) Aerodynamics Payload Deployment Kit

Figure 3 Fully integrated satellite at GomSpace, Denmark.

Launch and Deployment

The satellite will be launched on SpaceX CRS-22,scheduled for 3rd June 2021.

Click here to watch the launch of the satellite.

SOAR will subsequently be deployed via the Nanoacks CubeSat deployer (NRCSD) from the International Space Station. The deployment is currently scheduled from the ISS at 5:05 am EDT (9:05 GMT) on 14 June 2021.

Public Livestream to watch the deployment.

Related Papers

[1]        P.C.E. Roberts, N.H. Crisp, S. Edmondson, S.J. Haigh, R.E. Lyons, V.T.A. Oiko, A. Macario-Rojas, K.L. Smith, J. Becedas, G. González, I. Vázquez, Á. Braña, K. Antonini, K. Bay, L. Ghizoni, V. Jungnell, J. Morsbøl, T. Binder, A. Boxberger, G.H. Herdrich, F. Romano, S. Fasoulas, D. Garcia-Almiñana, S. Rodriguez-Donaire, D. Kataria, M. Davidson, R. Outlaw, B. Belkouchi, A. Conte, J.S. Perez, R. Villain, B. Heißerer, A. Schwalber, DISCOVERER – Radical Redesign of Earth Observation Satellites for Sustained Operation at Significantly Lower Altitudes, in: 68th Int. Astronaut. Congr., International Astronautical Federation (IAF), Adelaide, Australia, 2017: pp. 1–9.

[2]        N.H. Crisp, P.C.E. Roberts, S. Livadiotti, V.T.A. Oiko, S. Edmondson, S.J. Haigh, C. Huyton, L.A. Sinpetru, K.L. Smith, S.D. Worrall, J. Becedas, R.M. Domínguez, D. González, V. Hanessian, A. Mølgaard, J. Nielsen, M. Bisgaard, Y.-A. Chan, S. Fasoulas, G.H. Herdrich, F. Romano, C. Traub, D. García-Almiñana, S. Rodríguez-Donaire, M. Sureda, D. Kataria, R. Outlaw, B. Belkouchi, A. Conte, J.S. Perez, R. Villain, B. Heißerer, A. Schwalber, The benefits of very low earth orbit for earth observation missions, Prog. Aerosp. Sci. 117 (2020) 100619. doi:10.1016/j.paerosci.2020.100619.

[3]        N.H. Crisp, P.C.E. Roberts, S. Livadiotti, A. Macario Rojas, V.T.A. Oiko, S. Edmondson, S.J. Haigh, B.E.A. Holmes, L.A. Sinpetru, K.L. Smith, J. Becedas, R.M. Domínguez, V. Sulliotti-Linner, S. Christensen, J. Nielsen, M. Bisgaard, Y.-A. Chan, S. Fasoulas, G.H. Herdrich, F. Romano, C. Traub, D. García-Almiñana, S. Rodríguez-Donaire, M. Sureda, D. Kataria, B. Belkouchi, A. Conte, S. Seminari, R. Villain, In-orbit aerodynamic coefficient measurements using SOAR (Satellite for Orbital Aerodynamics Research), Acta Astronaut. 180 (2021) 85–99. doi:10.1016/j.actaastro.2020.12.024.