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KickSat-2 is Alive and Being Tracked

02/19/2019

For the first couple of days after the 3U KickSat-2 was deployed from Cygnus NG-10 last November, nothing was heard from the satellite. But in a February 16 post to AMSAT-BB, Nico Janssen, PA0DLO, reported receiving several short and weak transmissions from KickSat 2 — short telemetry bursts on 437.5077 MHz. Assistant Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics at Stanford University Zac Manchester, KD2BHC, is the principal investigator for the KickSat project, which NASA adopted as an official mission.

“Yes, KickSat-2 is alive,” Manchester told ARRL. “We have been tracking it since Thursday, [February 14,] and have been able to decode at least some packets. The signal is weak and we think the antenna did not properly deploy on the CubeSat.”

KickSat-2 is scheduled to deploy up to 104 tiny Sprite satellites into low Earth orbit. The Sprites then would transmit on 437.240 MHz at 10 mW, communicating with each other via a mesh network and with command stations on Earth. The Sprites, which are less than 2 square inches, are expected to reenter Earth’s atmosphere within weeks. Manchester did not indicate if attempts would be made to deploy the Sprites.

NASA calls KickSat-2 a technology demonstration mission that’s designed to demonstrate the deployment and operation of prototype Sprite “ChipSats,” also known as “femtosatellites.”

The FCC recently imposed a $900,000 penalty on a commercial concern, Swarm Technologies, for launching similar tiny satellites after the FCC had denied permission.

“These spacecraft are therefore below the size threshold at which detection by the Space Surveillance Network can be considered routine,” the FCC told Swarm Technologies.

Manchester had been trying without success to convince the FCC to allow him to deploy the Sprites from KickSat-2, but, apparently gun shy after the Swarm action, the agency denied permission at the last moment.

Once NASA adopted KickSat-2 as its own mission, however, the regulatory body shifted to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), and the launch went forward.

In the Swarm Technologies proceeding, the FCC has argued that satellites smaller than 10 centimeters on any side were too small, although the agency has been accused of inconsistency in its approach to licensing small satellites. KickSat-2’s Sprites are 3.5 centimeters on the side and just 0.2 centimeters thick. Manchester’s 2014 KickSat was unable to deploy its Sprites before deorbiting.

The FCC issued an Enforcement Advisory last April to remind satellite operators that they must obtain FCC authorization for space station and Earth station operations. The advisory cautioned satellite operators and launch companies against proceeding with launch arrangements following a license denial or prior to receiving an FCC authorization.

Manchester is reported to be developing a plan to deploy a group of small satellites to survey the sky in the LF radio range, something that cannot be done from the ground owing to the ionosphere.

 



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