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FUNcube Cubesat Project Announced

07/29/2009

AMSAT-UK has announced a new amateur satellite project -- FUNcube -- an educational single cubesat project that features a 435-145 MHz linear transponder for SSB/CW operation. According to AMSAT-UK, FUNcube will "enthuse and educate" young people about radio, space, physics and electronics. "The idea of FUNcube is to combine an educational project to excite young people with a simple linear transponder for radio amateurs to use with either legacy modes like CW and SSB, or, still to come, digital ones," said IARU Region 1 Satellite Coordinator Graham Shirville, G3VZV. Shirville is also affiliated with AMSAT-UK and ARISS-Europe.

FUNcube's target audience consists of primary and secondary school pupils. The new satellite will feature a 145 MHz telemetry beacon that will provide a strong signal for the pupils to receive. "A simple receiver board is being developed," Shirville explained. "This can be connected to the USB port of a laptop to display telemetry in a fun way for the kids to learn. FUNcube will contain a materials science experiment, from which the school students can receive telemetry data that they can compare to the results they obtained from similar reference experiments in the classroom." FUNcube is the first cubesat designed to benefit this age group and is expected to be the first British cubesat to reach space.

According to Shirville, FUNcube would be launched into a Sun Synchronous Low Earth Orbit (about 600-700 km above the Earth) using one of the many launch opportunities that exist for cubesat missions. According to QST Editor and satellite expert Steve Ford, WB8IMY, since FUNcube will be in a low orbit, amateurs from all around the world, including North America, should be able to access it.

FUNcube will carry a UHF-to-VHF linear transponder that will have up to 1 W and that can be used by radio amateurs worldwide for SSB and CW communications. Measuring just 10×10×10 cm and with a mass of less than 1 kg, Shirville said it will be the smallest ever satellite to carry a linear transponder. The choice of frequencies will enable radio amateurs to use their existing VO-52 or DO-64 station.

A key feature of the satellite is the absence of an on-board computer. For reliability and maximum power efficiency, Shirville explained that the design has been kept as "straight-forward as possible," with satellite control being achieved using simple commands.

Shirville said the project should take less than a year to build: "Then we need to find a cubesat launch opportunity. We believe that this is an achievable mission with a relatively short timescale."

AMSAT-UK teams have provided hardware for more than 10 satellites over the past 35 years, including SSETI Express in 2005. They are presently involved with the development of hardware and software for a number of satellite projects, including the European Student Earth Orbiter (ESEO), P3E, SuitSat2, the Columbus module on the International Space Station and also the GENSO Ground Station Network, "We hope that ESEO and Suitsat2 might have data formats with VHF downlinks that are also compatible with FUNcube-- this would make the educational potential even greater," Shirville said. -- Information provided by Graham Shirville, G3VZV



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