Semester Projects

Embark on an exciting journey with the EPFL Spacecraft team! Our semester projects offer you the unique chance to apply your academic knowledge to real-world challenges in spacecraft design and exploration. Step into the frontier of space technology, and shape the future of space travel with us!

System engineering

FlastSat testbench definition

Semester project
Section : ALL

This project aims to establish the foundation for the CHESS mission’s FlatSat. A FlatSat is a functional, flat-laid model of a satellite that incorporates all the subsystems' informational and electrical interfaces. By using simpler mechanical interfaces, the FlatSat facilitates easier testing and debugging processes. The goal of the project is to complete the theoretical FlatSat design by the end of the semester, enabling seamless integration of the satellite subsystems and the commencement of the testing process shortly thereafter.


- Getting familiar with the CHESS Mission
- Review subsystem communication protocols
- Design electrical interfaces between subsystems
- Define a testing plan for the final FlatSat

Background and skills:

- Systems Engineering bases
- Good understanding of electronics
- Good knowledge of embedded system communications


Vibration simulation

Semester project
Section : GM - MX

The goal of this semester project is to continue the simulation of loads and stresses during launch. It would involve creating a finite element model of the CHESS CubeSat, including the subsystems inside the satellite. The loads to be assessed include for example quasi-static accelerations, random vibrations, and shock loads. The objective is to assume the worst possible loads that could occur during launch and, based on the results, make recommendations for eventual design changes to the CubeSat.


- Gain a thorough understanding of the CHESS satellite's design and  architecture

- Gain a thorough understanding of what has already been done and what still needs to be simulated or what can be improved

- Model the design of the subsystems, and overall satellite in Abaqus or Ansys

- Improve the existing design of the CubeSat according to the simulations

- Compile and adapt CubeSat standards and requirements related to modeling

- Develop and archive the according documentation

Background and skills:

- Courses on Finite Element Method

- Experience in Abaqus/Ansys or similar CAD softwares

Solar Panel Design

Semester project
Section : GM - EL

The aim of this semester project is to further develop the solar panels of the satellite. The initial step involves conducting a thermal vacuum test on the current prototype to assess the suitability of different materials and construction methods used. Additionally, solutions must be explored regarding the panel's survival during launch vibrations. Previous semester projects have revealed that the deflection is excessively high, posing a risk of panel fracture. One potential solution under consideration is the addition of stiffeners, although further research into this approach is required.


- Gain a comprehensive understanding of critical aspects of the solar panel design
- Develop a testing plan for the thermal vacuum test
- Modify the prototype based on the test results
- Conduct research on stiffener implementation
- Perform vibration simulations to validate the chosen solution
- Develop a new prototype based on the revised design and test results

Background and skills:

- Strong background in mechanical design and structural analysis
- Knowledge of environmental testing and validation for space applications.

Solar Panels Hold-Down & Release Mechanism (HDRM)

Semester project
Section : GM

This semester project focuses on the third iteration of the satellite’s solar panels Hold-Down & Release Mechanism (HDRM). It includes thermal and mechanical verifications of the previous iterations and a potential redesign of some parts. A special focus should be made on the Burning Wire part of the mechanism regarding its final assembly on the CubeSat, its electrical configuration and its resistance to loads and vibrations. The HDRM should be close to a Qualification Model at the end of the project.


- Understand the criticality of the HDRM regarding the CHESS mission
- Check thermal and mechanical behavior of the mechanism
- Integrate the mechanism in the EPS system and establish a functional electrical circuit for the burning wires
- Rework on the design to make the assembly to the CubeSat efficient and reproducible
- Derive a testing plan that includes all phases of the mechanism lifetime
- Produce a prototype

Background and skills:

- Experience in 3D modeling (ex. CATIA)
- Basic knowledge in electrical engineering

EPS (Electrical Power System)

Next Generation Design of the EPS with Redundancy and Fault Recovery

Semester project
Section : EL

This project focuses on developing the next-generation Electrical Power System (EPS) for our CubeSat, emphasizing on enhancing redundancy and fault recovery mechanisms. Building on an existing Engineering Model that has undergone extensive review, we have identified key areas for improvement. While the primary areas needing work have been established, there is still room for research and innovative solutions before direct implementation. The goal is to significantly enhance the reliability and resilience of the EPS, ensuring continuous operation even in the event of component failures or unexpected conditions.


- Analyze the current EPS design and use the feedback on the previous board to identify critical areas for improvement

- Design redundant power pathways and select components that support dual or multiple power sources

- Develop schematics and layout for the redundant power distribution unit.Design and integrate automatic fault recovery procedures to switch to backup systems when primary components fail.

- Test the new EPS design under various conditions to validate redundancy and fault recovery effectiveness.

Background and skills:

- Understanding of power electronics, circuit design, and PCB layout

- Basic knowledge of system reliability, redundancy, and fault tolerance.

Programming and testing of the battery pack engineering model

Semester project
Section : EL - MT - RO - INF

Last semester, EST developed an electronic engineering model of the battery pack, which is used to store the energy for our CubeSat. Our mission is to space-proof our system using standard batteries instead of space-grade ones. To achieve this, we need to develop a real-time software layer for the system.The Integrated Circuits (ICs) on the PCB require drivers to communicate effectively with the EPS microcontroller and the onboard computer. The goal of this project is to create the necessary software to manage the battery pack efficiently, ensuring robust operation, safety, and seamless integration with the spacecraft's systems.This project not only enhances the reliability and resilience of our CubeSat but also offers a unique opportunity to contribute to an innovative solution for energy storage.


- 10% literature review, 70% programming, 20% testing

- Familiarization with the battery pack electronics schematics, and battery safety protocols

- Develop drivers for integrated circuits (e.g., TI, MPS) to communicate with the microcontroller and manage battery functions

- Review aerospace best practices for embedded system programming and document findings

- Create and configure software to operate the battery pack, focusing on error handling and redundancy

- Determine and document the best approach regarding RTOS, Interrupt, state machine use and implementation

- Test software and hardware in various conditions to ensure proper operation and protection

- Provide recommendations for future improvements to the battery pack software and hardware.

Background and skills:

- Coding skills in C/C++

- Knowledge of: Microcontroller, Memory type and organization, STM32 or MSP environment, Interruption, RTOS, FSM, I2C communication protocol

- Understanding of electronic schematics

- Knowledge of electronic and lab equipment for the tests


Development of a radio on CPU for space communications

Semester project
Section : IN - SC

The scientific data from the CHESS mission shall be transmitted from space to the ground via our in-house communication system at high frequency (X-band). Two options are being considered for the on-board data processing pipeline: A FPGA-backed option allowing for high data rates or a software solution in C to be run on the subsystem’s CPU. The student shall develop the latter software and test it on the team’s hardware to assess its efficiency and contribute to the final trade-off.


- Pursue the previously delivered work on the X-band subsystem software by shaping the processing pipeline on Simulink or GNURadio
- Produce a code in C that executes the pipeline on CPU
- Test the code on the team’s development boards to characterize its performances (maximal data rate, bit error rate at reception)
- If time allows, produce also the decoding pipeline to be run on ground

Background and skills:

- Coding skills in C
- Basic understanding of Radio Frequency communications
- Experience with hardware is a plusExperience with Simulink/GNURadio is a plus

Development of a radio transmitter for space communications

Semester project
Section : EL

The scientific data from the CHESS mission shall be transmitted from space to the ground via our in-house communication system at high frequency (X-band). Two options are being considered for the on-board data processing pipeline, namely : one FPGA-backed option allowing for huge data rates, and a software in C to be runned on the subsystem’s CPU. The student shall contribute to the final design, manufacture and test the PCB hosting the satellite’s transmitter.


- Pursue the previously delivered work on the X-band subsystem hardware by reviewing the two proposed design for the transmitter
- Manufacture the preferred design (or if time allows, both of them)
- Characterize the PCB with extensive testingIf concurrent efforts on software allow, test the radio software directly on the manufactured PCB

Background and skills:

- Skills in electrical engineering
- Good understanding of Radio Frequency communications
- Experience in PCB manufacturing

Ground segment

Setup of a Satellite Ground Station Software/Hardware Architecture

Semester project
Section : MT - EL - SC - IN

The EPFL Spacecraft Team is seeking to enhance their antenna infrastructure located on the roof of the ELB building at the EPFL campus. Currently, the antennas operate across multiple frequency bands and are not integrated into a comprehensive system. Additionally, a hardware setup for computers/servers is present in a nearby lab. The project aims to integrate the antenna transmitters, receivers, and trackers with the server setup, enabling autonomous command and tracking of satellites and other targets. The overall goal is to establish a semi-automated and efficient system for antenna control and operation.


- Design a comprehensive hardware/software system architecture that seamlessly integrates the antenna infrastructure with the server setup.

- Trade-off between different options and acquisition of necessary hardware.

- Identification of potential areas for improvement and pinpointing bottlenecks

Background and skills:

- This project lies at the intersection of hardware and software, familiarity with both aspects is preferable.

- Interest in radio amateur and/or satellite applications.

Programmation and optimisation of tracking algorithms to enable autonomous tracking of satellites

Semester project
Section : MT - INF - COM

The goal of this project is to make the antenna pointing mechanism (APM) fully autonomous in its tracking and signal acquisition. The control algorithms exist already and we will need to implement them in the existing hardware. The final objective of this project is the creation of a software which will enable autonomous tracking with the APM.


- Orientation: Software 80%, Hardware: 20%
- Creation of a managing bot to plan satellite passage
- Interface previously coded bot with control algorithms for the APM
- Retrieve and store received data autonomously
- Make the whole tracking session autonomousImplement code and algorithms in the OBD

Background and skills:

- Proficiency in Python
- Basic knowledge in ROS is a plus
- Knowledge in network and data acquisition

Conception and assembly of an acquisition pipeline for antenna feed in X and S band

Semester project
Section : MT - GM - EL - INF - COM - PH

Throughout this project, you will focus on designing and implementing an acquisition pipeline for our newly built antenna feeds in S and X frequency bands. The primary objective is to convert the modulated signal from the feed into a numerical value. The latter half of the project will involve testing the feed, pipeline, and antenna dish to assess signal reception quality.


- Orientation: Software 40%, Hardware: 60%

- Selection of the RF components of the acquisition pipeline

- Building the pipeline and assembly with the antenna feed (Patch)

- Testing of the whole signal reception pipeline and characterization

Background and skills:

- Interest in RF and telecommunication

Mission Design / Operations

Digital Twin CubeSat

Semester project
Section : ALL

The objective of this project is to develop a digital twin (model) of the CHESS CubeSat. The project shall include the orbit analysis (orbit propagator) as well as the modeling of the satellites subsystems. The prioritized subsystems to be implemented are the attitude determination and control system (ADCS), electrical power system (EPS) and the communication system. The modules shall interact with each other in order that effects from different satellite operations and conditions can directly be  seen on all the subsystems at the same time. If time allows a graphic user interface (GUI) shall be implemented.


- Implementation of Orbit Propagator

- Digital Twin model of the satellite with ADCS, EPS, Telecom modules that interact with the orbit propagator

- Graphic User Interface

- Develop a complete source code of the project

- Complete documentation of the methodology, environment and configuration

Background and skills:

- Good understanding of orbital mechanics

- Experience in programming with Python


Design of On-Board Computer for CHESS Mission

Semester project
Section : MT - EL -Space Minor


Next, to its main mission CHESS the EPFL Spacecraft Team does In-Orbit Demonstrations of their subsystems to test them under real conditions and reduce the risk for the final mission. The first successful IOD took place in January 2023 launched with Space X Falcon 9. During this mission a lot about the functioning of the OBC was learned.This semester project’s goal is to include the lessons learned from the IOD and redesign the OBC circuit board to fit the exact requirements of the final CHESS CubeSat mission. The end goal of the project is to develop the schematics of the final PCB that will be used for the CHESS mission considering the last modifications made and the transceivers and adaptations that have to be done to the current Twocan board.


- Define the modifications needed for the current iteration of the board to comply with the requirements of the CHESS mission and to interface with all the subsystems

- RS422 transceiver for communication with Attitude Determination and Control System

- RS485 transceiver for communication with UHF-Transceiver

- Add eMMC storage

- Gain a thorough understanding of the OBC architecture

- Develop and model the schematics of the OBC in KiCAD

- Document the whole process.

Background and skills:

- Courses related to IC Design

- Experience in PCB Design (Eagle, KiCAD)

Expected Output:

- The student is expected to develop the schematics of the final board that will be used for the final mission that shall be able to interface with the other subsystems.

Flight Software

Development of a full-scale integration testing framework for Flight Software Validation

Semester project
Section : INF - COM


Proper integration testing of the satellite's flight software (FS) is very important. Until now, a direct access to the on board computer (OBC) is needed, which slows down the development. The aim of this project is to virtualize as much of the flight software's environment as possible, which not only includes the OS, but also the processor, OBC and other components of the satellite the FS interfaces with. The project is divided in two parts:

The first part consists of setting up an accurate software emulation of the environment provided by the OBC (running a custom Linux version on ARM, with memory-mapped GPIO lines and serial I/O ports) to run the native FS in, most likely using QEMU, an open-source machine emulator and virtualizer.

The second part consists of working on a full-scale integration testing framework in which the emulated FS would run together with virtualized hardware components of the satellite and proper interfaces between them. It should provide the ability to observe, log and automatically validate all communication between the components, as well as orchestrate test cases by sending timed signals to the virtualized components. Python would probably be the language of choice for this framework, as it is not performance critical and most of the tooling external to the FS is already written in Python.


- QEMU Setup and Configuration

- Development of a full-scale integration testing framework.

Background and skills:

- Operating systems and embedded software development

Strong understanding of C++ (language of the flight software)

Good Python programming skills (for the testing framework).