International Team of Amateur Radio Volunteers Help Recover Stalled Satellites

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Barnaby Osborne at the ISU Strasbourg Groundstation tracking INSPIRE-2

A network of international amateur radio enthusiasts has come to the aid of the UNSW-EC0 and INSPIRE-2 QB50 CubeSat teams. 

After deployment from the International Space Station (ISS) in late May, no signals were received from either satellite. Groundstations at UNSW Sydney and ANU Canberra tested various scenarios on the UNSW-EC0 engineering model, concluding that the spacecraft’s battery had most likely depleted due to the CubeSat’s extended stay on board the ISS prior to orbit. The ground controllers theorised that the satellite was trapped in an endless loop, but still listening while trying to deploy its antenna, making reception of signals from Earth difficult.

The ground team devised a set of commands that, if received, would instruct the satellite to wait until its battery was charged before attempting to deploy its antenna. UNSW Sydney, ANU Canberra and ISU Strasbourg ground stations transmitted the recovery command without success, eventually deciding that more power was needed to overcome the lack of receiver sensitivity caused by the still-stowed antenna.

PI9CAM at the CAMRAS Foundation Dwingeloo Astronomic Observatory in Leiden, the Netherlands (team pictured right), responded to a call to the moonbounce community and offered to transmit a high power signal using a 25-meter dish that’s normally used for radio astronomy but also for EME.

Success of the approach was confirmed on June 11, and Dimitris Tsifakis, VK1SV, who is part of the ANU team, subsequently was able to send commands to the INSPIRE-2 satellite from the ANU Earth station for the first time. The satellite had come back to life! Following similar methods and with the help of the Dwingeloo team, the UNSW-EC0 satellite was also able to be revived late on Sunday evening 18th June (Sydney time).

 

The Wireless Institute of Australia (WIA) called it, “a wonderful example of successful collaboration between radio amateurs and the academic community.”


QB50 is a collaboration of more than 50 universities and research institutes in 23 countries, headed by the von Karman Institute (VKI) in Belgium. “This is the very first international real-time coordinated study of the thermosphere phenomena,” said VKI’s Davide Masutti. “The data generated by the constellation will be unique in many ways and they will be used for many years by scientists around the world.”

VIDEO AND STILLS AVAILABLE

  • BACKGROUNDER: Goals, flight, deployment and instruments.
  • VIDEO ANIMATION: One of the Australian cubesats being deployed from the ISS, floating above Earth near an aurora, and a video graphic of the thermosphere region. 
  • VIDEO EXPLAINER: Dr Elias Aboutanios and Prof Andrew Dempster explain the QB50 mission and what the satellites will seek to explore.
  • STILLS: Photos of the UNSW-Ec0 and INSPIRE-2 satellites, the team that built them, and the shake and vacuum testing at the Advanced Instrumentation Technology Centre in Canberra.

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