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UK's FUNcube-1 satellite launches successfully

Posted 21 November 2013 · Add Comment

The UK's FUNcube-1 satellite was placed into low-earth orbit this morning after being launched aboard a DNEPR rocket, reports Steve Nichols.

FUNCube-1 with Graham Shirville FUNcube-1 has been designed to get young people excited about space and supports the educational science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) initiatives in the UK,

The satellite lifted off from the Yasny launch base in Orenburg Region, Russia on a DNEPR Launch Vehicle that inserted multiple satellites into orbit.

Once launched its tiny transmitter started to beam information back to earth and was picked up in South Africa and the UK shortly after.

FUNcube-1 will provide a signal directly from a satellite in space to the classroom, and is easily be received by schools and colleges.

But if you think of satellite ground stations as consisting of massive dishes on concrete buildings think again. The ground station or ground segment for FUNcube is about the size of your thumb.

The key to this is the FUNcube Dongle Pro+ – a sophisticated software defined radio receiver that covers 150 kHz to 1.9 GHz and just plugs into a laptop or PC. The dongle costs just £149.99, plus schools will need an antenna, the final design for which will be made available once FUNcube's engineers have evaluated just how strong its signal is from orbit.

The dongle will let pupils download satellite data from FUNcube, allowing them to learn more about orbital tracking, how the satellite's temperature and solar cell voltages change as it goes in and out of sunlight and how its signal will be affected by Doppler shift as it hurtles through space.

Students will also be able to download software to predict when the satellite is overhead.

Some of the tasks they will be able to complete are ingenious. By working out how long it takes for the satellite to make one orbit youngsters will be able to calculate the altitude and orbital speed of the satellite.

Timing subsequent orbits will also let them work out the orbital drag on the satellite due to the atmosphere – even though it is very thin at that altitude the drag will be measurable.

Schools that don't want to set up their own ground stations can also download FUNcube's data from the internet. All schools participating in the project will automatically have their data uploaded to a central “Data Warehouse” repository via the Windows-based “Dashboard” software for others to use.

Graham Shirville, technical manager with AMSAT UK (pictured with FUNcube-1), said: “The Space Academy at Leicester, as part of a project for ESA, has already done some teacher outreach and is developing material for teachers. We are also intending to get it referenced in one of the 'A' level syllabi.

“Of course, one of the beauties of a polar orbiting spacecraft is that it will go over every country six times a day at least, so the “market” is a worldwide one not just UK.

“All the costs for the hardware, integration, testing and launch of FUNcube have been provided by individual donations and bequests,” he said.

In addition, the spacecraft is also carrying a two-way transponder for radio amateurs to use for communication.

You can read more about FUNcube-1 and other cubesats in the next edition of ADS Advance magazine.

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