Amateur satellite created within UNESCO space project deployed

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Members of the Russian crew of the International Space Station Sergei Volkov and Alexander Samokutyayev spacewalked to launch an amateur microsatellite on orbit.

The ARISSat-1/KEDR satellite was hand-launched by Volkov, ISS flight engineer. It is called KEDR in commemoration of Yuri Gagarin’s callsign. The device looks like a metal box and weighs about 30 kg. It is powered by six solar panels and a buffer battery. The satellite is a joint project of US NASA, Russia’s Rocket and Space Corporation Energia and students of the Southwest State University (SWSU) in Kursk. Remarkably, the technical leader of the experiment is Sergei Samburov, great-grandchild of Konstantin Tsiolkovsky.

Students of the SWSU department of computer design and technology designed and made their own vacuum gauge: they intend to use it to see how currents of charged particles in the space influence the reading of an ionized vacuum meter.

Besides, the radio satellite will help to find out whether there are accumulations of gas molecules in space or whether gas molecules are spread evenly. Valerian Pikkiev, associate professor of the department and head of the Sporadic club, says that if such accumulations are found, scientists will look into their connection to the earth surface and the planet’s ecology, and will try to link it to their monitoring of the consequences of industrial disasters.

The satellite was delivered to the ISS back in January, but the launch was postponed several times. Finally, at 2 p.m. Greenwich time on August 3, it was deployed. But even the long-awaited deployment was not without an accident. Unexpectedly, the satellite lost one of its two antennas, which was found out when already in the open space. So the cosmonauts had to take it back to the exit hatch. In a few hours, the launch eventually succeeded.

On April 12, 2011, the 50th anniversary of Gagarin’s first space flight, KEDR broadcast 25 greetings in 15 languages via the ISS antennas. Now it will broadcast greetings directly for about ten days. During three to six months after the deployment it will also broadcast telemetric information from its research and service equipment and digital pictures in the SSTV format from its four video cameras.

The launch of KEDR continues the SuitSat experiment, a UNESCO project to provide space education to young people in Russia and other countries, which started in 2006. Its goal is to set up a network of microsatellites that would provide universities all over the world with realtime space information at a minimum cost. This is what a radio station broadcasting on amateur frequencies allows to do, Energia said. If it is included in a microsatellite, any radio enthusiast will be able to receive its broadcasts finding the right frequency. The SuitSat’s developers suggested using old space suits that are to be recycled as the outside container for a microsatellite.

The launch of such a satellite in a space suit took place in March 2006. It cruised above the planet for over two weeks, having made over 230 full circles around the Earth and broadcast the greetings of the rectors of the Bauman Moscow State Technical University and the Moscow Aviation Institute. More importantly, scientists were able to trace some important parameters to take into account for next launches, such as the temperature within the space suit when the temperature regulation system is off or the accumulator’s life. This time, however, KEDR was launched without a space suit. Its deployment is the first step in a comprehensive program to create and use small spacecraft weighing below 100 kg.

“Our goal is not to get new information we could not get before. It is to get it through the young,” says academician Vladimir Fortov, deputy chairman of the Russian commission for UNESCO affairs. “It is very difficult to stir interest; it is a common problem for the world now: young people are not too willing to enter technical universities.”

ARISSat-1/KEDR project manager Gould Smith said that dozens of amateur radio volunteers, AMSAT, ARRL, HACA and RSC Energia joined their efforts for this successful mission, “a most unique and innovative amateur radio satellite mission: a satellite flying above your house at a height of 220 miles at a speed of 17,500 miles an hour”. He congratulated everyone who had worked on the project.

He said also that ARISSat-1/KEDR was designed, built and tested by a great team of radio amateurs. “As project manager of ARISSat-1/KEDR, for the last three years I have had the opportunity to work with a team of creative people to get where we are now… on the orbit!”

It should be added that the satellite broadcasts at an amateur frequency, notably, 145.95 MHz. So any radio enthusiast can listen to it on the Earth. Schoolchildren, students and everyone for whom the outer space has or can become the main passion of life can now pick up KEDR’s callsign.