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INSPIRE-2 Ground Controllers Turn to Amateur Radio, Rescue Stalled Satellite


Amateur Radio came to the rescue of the INSPIRE-2 CubeSat, built by the University of Sydney in collaboration with the Australian National University, and the University of New South Wales. According to Wireless Institute of Australia (WIA), the CubeSat is designed to “explore the lower thermosphere, for re-entry research and in-orbit demonstration of technologies and miniaturized sensors” and is part of the QB-50 constellation of research CubeSats. Its operational frequency was coordinated by IARU to be in the satellite segment of the 70-centimeter Amateur Radio band.

After its deployment from the International Space Station (ISS) in late May, INSPIRE-2 showed no signs of life. The engineering group on the ground tested various scenarios on the INSPIRE-2 engineering model, concluding that the spacecraft’s battery had depleted due to the CubeSat’s extended stay on board the ISS prior to orbit. The ground controllers theorized 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 and ANU ground stations transmitted the recovery command without success, however, 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, 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 Dimitrios Tsifakis, VK1SV, who is part of the ANU team, subsequently was able to send commands to the satellite from the ANU Earth station for the first time. The satellite had come back to life!

WIA called it, “a wonderful example of successful collaboration between radio amateurs and the academic community.”

The QB50 program involves a coordinated launch of 50 CubeSats from the ISS to undertake three integrated space research studies, supplemented by additional research investigations by individual CubeSat teams; some QB50 participating spacecraft carry Amateur Radio payloads. — Thanks to WIA News





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