Monday, June 10, 2019

Sailing in Space

How the Planetary Society's "lightsail" is expected to look in
orbit. It is hoped that the sail will enable the Lightsail-2
satellite to use solar power to slowly be moved to a higher orbit.
(From The Planetary Society website)
If sailing seems as high-tech to you as ham radio, you're right! Two satellites planned for launch this month will incorporate different types of "sails" in their designs. The AMSAT News Service reports that Lightsail-2, a Planetary Society satellite scheduled to ride aboard a US Department of Defense launch on June 22, will attempt the first controlled solar sail flight in Earth orbit. Once deployed, the craft's four rectangular Mylar sails will be turned toward the sun for half of each orbit, "giving the spacecraft a tiny push no stronger than the weight of a paperclip." But after a month, designers say, the combined effects of this continual thrust should measurably raise the satellite's orbit. It will carry a 9600-baud packet beacon, transmitting on 437.025 MHz under experimental call sign WM9XPA.
Artist's conception of CAMSAT sail ball once deployed in
orbit. China's amateur satellite organization says the ball will
provide stabilization for its attached satellite through
"pneumatic resistance." (From CAMSAT website)

A few days later, China's amateur satellite organization, CAMSAT, is planning to launch CAS-7A/BP-1B in cooperation with the Beijing Institute of Technology. The ARRL reports that the 1.5U cubesat will be equipped with a mylar "sail ball," which the CAMSAT website says will provide stabilization through "pneumatic resistance." The satellite will carry an amateur radio payload including a CW telemetry beacon on 435.715 MHz and a VHF/UHF FM voice transponder with a 145.900 MHz uplink and a 435.690 MHz downlink. Even if the launch and deployment are successful (which CAMSAT says is questionable, since it will be flying on the first launch of a new vehicle from a small commercial rocket company), the satellite's expected life in orbit is between one week and one month. However, it says hams should be able to track the satellite and monitor it as it re-enters the atmosphere. One long-term impact of the satellite project: the university has established an amateur radio club, which many students have joined.