ARTSAT2: DESPATCH (FO-81) Satellite Goes Dark


The ARTSAT2: DESPATCH sculpture/satellite (FO-81) has stopped transmitting after 1 month. The satellite was one of two carrying Amateur Radio payloads that were launched December 3 onboard a Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) vehicle into an Earth-escape orbit as piggyback payloads of the Hayabusa 2 asteroid sample-return mission into deep space. Crafted as a physical art object, ARTSAT2: DESPATCH transmitted a CW beacon on 437.325 MHz. The other Amateur Radio payload was Shin’en 2 (Abyss 2). Ground controllers at Tama Art University, who had estimated the spacecraft's battery would last for 27 days, concluded the satellite’s mission on January 3.

“DESPATCH will continue to orbit around the sun as an artificial asteroid,” said Akihiro Kubota, a Tama Art University faculty member. “By examining the calculated results for the local minimum value of the distance between the Earth, DESPATCH will approach to less than 1 million km from Earth after about 350 years.” Kubota said it could come closer, “due to the interaction with unpredictable other celestial bodies.” The actual sculpture was created using a 3D printer.

Kubota expressed appreciation to the many Amateur Radio operators who received and reported the “super-weak” CW signal from DESPATCH’s 7 W transmitter in deep space. An algorithm running on the onboard computer drew on readings from all of the spacecraft’s sensors to compose and encode poetry “reflecting not only the sensor data but the artist’s subconscious personality.” The ground team used a “cooperative data reconstruction” approach, piecing together the received fragments of the satellite’s poetry broadcast to reconstruct the whole. DESPATCH received two reception reports — from PE1ITR and OK1DFC — when the satellite was some 2.9 million miles from Earth. “They were far beyond what we expected,” Kubota said.

Kubota said that while the satellite has stopped transmitting, “the life of DESPATCH as a sculpture around the Sun is almost eternal.”

The ARTSAT project will continue, Kubota added. “We already have started the conceptual design of ARTSAT3,” he reported. — Thanks to AMSAT News Service via Akihiro Kubota