We were really looking forward to the European CanSat competition, although we had to improve and repair a lot of things on our CanSat during the previous week. Fortunately, we got everything done by Sunday evening and were able to board the train on Monday morning with a big travel suitcase full of tools, spare parts and of course our CanSat.
The congress center where the competition was held is located just outside of Bologna, where we arrived around afternoon. Many of the other teams were already there, so we were able to socialize for the first time. Around 19:00 we were invited to the "Opening Ceremony", where we were officially welcomed together with the 24 other teams from all over Europe and from Canada. The dinner (like all other meals) was taken at very internationally mixed tables. The meals were a highlight every day, because we could talk to other students from all over Europe about our CanSats and the school, but also about completely different things. It was very exciting to hear how other national competitions went or how the school system in other countries differed from ours. In the evenings we often played soccer together, went out for ice cream or talked until late at night.
Of course we also worked on our CanSat. On Tuesday, the "Technical Inspections" were carried out, i.e. checking whether the dimensions and mass of our CanSat are correct. The parachute together with a "dummy" CanSat was brought up to 50 meters on a drone and dropped to test the required fall speed. We passed all tests on the first try, even our last check of the sensors and gas collection bags of our CanSat did not reveal any problems or errors.
On Wednesday, the time had finally come and the launch was about to take place. At 12:30 we were brought to a small airfield where the rocket for the CanSats would start. Before the launch, we were able to check our CanSat briefly - everything was fine. At 14:55 our CanSat was launched together with that of the Canadian team with a solid fuel rocket.
After a total flight time of 128 seconds, our CanSat landed safely in a sugar beet field. Although our CanSat was printed from orange PLA, it took us quite a long time to find it again. When we finally had it, we were very disappointed because the gas collection bags were not filled with air.
Unfortunately, after recovering our satellite, we had to start the error analysis. After ruling out a hardware failure, we checked the software. This was where the error was located: after the German competition, we had replaced the air pressure sensor and exchanged it for a faster and more accurate one. Unfortunately, the new sensor measured in hectopascals instead of pascals like the old one. This meant that our algorithm, which determines the highest point of the flight and thus triggers the filling of the bags, did not work.
The primary mission, on the other hand, worked very well. Due to the new pressure and humidity sensor, the data is much more accurate compared to the German competition and with only a smaller offset (due to the reaction times of the sensors).
Thursday was completely filled with the presentations of all teams. Each team was allowed to present and explain their results as well as their mistakes for eight minutes. An international jury consisting of prominent figures in European spaceflight as well as professors of aerospace engineering evaluated the successes of the individual teams. We also presented our data from the primary mission, the error analysis and what we would have expected from the samples.
Friday was the last day of this very eventful week in Bologna. In the morning the award ceremony of this year's European CanSat competition took place. The team from Switzerland won the prize for the best CanSat project fully deserved. Congratulations!
Due to our failed secondary mission, we did not win a prize. Nevertheless, we will not forget this week in Bologna. At first, all teams were a bit unsure what to expect. But since very few of the students learned English as their native language, at least the language was not an obstacle: because it meant that everyone spoke English equally well (or poorly). From the beginning, we were a great community where everyone helped one another. If a certain component broke or you needed a certain tool, you could be sure that another team would help and support you as much as possible.
We would like to thank ESA and all the other teams for this unforgettable experience!