Satellites Carrying Amateur Radio Payloads Among Those Lost in Launch Explosion


[Updated 29 October 1820 UTC] The RACE  and GOMX-2 CubeSats were among more than 2 dozen satellites lost after an unmanned Orbital Space Sciences (OSC) Antares 130 vehicle exploded spectacularly shortly after launch at 2222 UTC on Tuesday, October 28, from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on Wallops Island on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. Both satellite packages carried Amateur Radio payloads. The Antares is a new medium-class launch vehicle developed by OSC. The rocket exploded about 6 seconds after launch, sending a huge ball of fire hurtling toward the ground, which set a massive fire at the NASA launch site.

The RACE (Radiometer Atmospheric Cubesat Experiment) CubeSat was a joint project between The Texas Spacecraft Laboratory (TSL) at the University of Texas-Austin and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). Built by a 30-student team, it carried a 183 GHz radiometer, a new science instrument designed by JPL. The spacecraft was equipped to transmit using GMSK at 38.4 k and CW telemetry on a downlink frequency of 437.525MHz.

TSL’s Glenn Lightsey, KE5DDG, a UT engineering professor, oversaw the student project that worked hand-in-hand with NASA staff in creating a satellite that aimed to measure water vapor in Earth’s atmosphere.

“It’s unfortunate, but it is also part of the aerospace industry,” Lightsey told the Texas Statesman newspaper. “The nature of building space vehicles is that it is not a 100 percent reliable process. Getting into space is really the hardest part.”

The 2U GOMX-2 CubeSat was intended to test a de-orbit system designed by Aalborg University in Denmark. Karl Klaus Laursen, OZ2KK, is listed as the “responsible operator” on International Amateur Radio Union frequency coordination documents. The Amateur Radio payload proposed using a 9.6 k MSK data downlink on 437.250 MHz. Also on board was an optical communications experiment from the National University of Singapore. The mission also aimed to flight qualify a new high-speed UHF transceiver and SDR receiver built by an Aalborg University team.

The Antares 130 launcher was on a resupply mission, carrying some 5000 pounds of cargo to the International Space Station.RACE, GOMX-2 and the other satellites onboard the rocket were to be launched into orbit from the International Space Station.

The Antares 130 also was carrying the Flock-1d array of 26 satellites as well as Arkyd-3 and Cygnus CRS-3.