KickSat Re-Enters Atmosphere Without Deploying “Sprite” Satellites
KickSat Project Manager Zac Manchester, KD2BHC, has announced that the KickSat CubeSat reentered the atmosphere on May 14 (UTC) and burned without deploying its cargo of tiny “Sprite” satellites.
“Unfortunately, we were not able to command the Sprite deployment in time,” said Manchester, a Cornell University aerospace engineering graduate student. “While we are certainly disappointed that things did not go as planned, I think we still have a lot to be proud of.”
Manchester said that more than 300 people from around the world cooperated to make KickSat a reality. “We built a spacecraft, tested it, and launched it,” he said. “Hundreds of people had their names flown in space, more than a dozen radio amateurs were able to receive signals from KickSat's beacon radio, and volunteers collected and processed telemetry data and predicted KickSat's orbit and reentry. This kind of participation is exactly what KickSat is all about and I'm glad we all got to share in this experience.”
Manchester said he plans to take the lessons learned to build an even better KickSat-2. “This is only the beginning!” he said.
A technical problem involving KickSat’s onboard clock prevented the Sprite deployment. The Sprites, PC boards each about the size of a small cracker, would have been the smallest satellites ever to orbit Earth. Manchester said an unexpected reset of KickSat’s master clock caused the failure, preventing the CubeSat from releasing its cargo of some 100 Sprite satellites before it deorbited. Ground controllers were unable to command the Sprites to release, because the uplink radio used to trigger deployment was unable to power up until the spacecraft’s batteries reach 8 V, and they never got back to that level before the satellite dropped out of orbit.
The satellite launched successfully April 18, and the ground control team at Cornell as well as several Amateur Radio operators around the world made contact with the spacecraft. KickSat went into space with the third SpaceX ISS resupply mission, and the Sprite satellites were to deploy in early May.