Russian rocket launches batch of tiny satellites
BY STEPHEN CLARK
Posted: October 27, 2005
An international cluster of diminutive spacecraft from at least seven nations - including Iran - rode a Russian Kosmos rocket into space this morning. The successful launch comes on the heels of a month of Russian space troubles.
The successful launch comes just weeks after a failed launch from Plesetsk in early October resulted in the loss of the European Cryosat satellite that was designed to observe changes in Earth's polar ice caps. Last week, controllers lost contact with the Monitor-E environmental satellite that was launched in August.
Included in the Kosmos rocket's payload were two craft built by Surrey Satellite Technology Limited of Britain, European and Russian student-built satellites, and Iran's first ever spacecraft.
At just under 200 pounds, TopSat was developed by Surrey on behalf of the government of the United Kingdom, and was funded by both the British National Space Center and the nation's Ministry of Defense.
TopSat's primary mission objective involves the demonstration of providing timely imaging with resolutions of lower than 10 feet. The imagery can be transmitted directly from space to ground terminals in the same region. An advanced control system also allows several independent image orders to be targeted and fulfilled in rapid succession, Surrey says.
China's contribution to the international Disaster Monitoring Constellation was also delivered into orbit by the Kosmos rocket Thursday. Also called Beijing-1, the satellite is the fifth member of the international fleet of small spacecraft, which features members from the United Kingdom, Turkey, Nigeria, and Algeria.
Beijing-1 was built by Surrey for the Beijing Landview Mapping Information Technology company throughout the past two years. The 309-pound craft carries color and black-and-white cameras with resolutions of around 100 feet and 13 feet, respectively. Once it joins the other members of the constellation, it will operate for at least five years to help monitor worldwide natural and man-made disasters, along with the observation of the environment and water resources, specifically in preparation for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Also aboard for the launch was the first satellite developed by teams from the Student Space Exploration and Technology Initiative, or SSETI. Created by the European Space Agency's education department, SSETI consists of teams of students from nations across Europe. The group's first spacecraft - SSETI Express - is now flying in space as the first pan-European student satellite.
SSETI Express mission development began in 2003 after morale was waning among many university students and mentors after delays in their first project. Fifteen teams totaling more than 100 students participated in an initial planning meeting in December 2003 before splitting up to focus on the design and manufacture of their specific components and systems. Further meetings were largely held in online chat rooms, while actual conferences were conducted twice a year.
Objectives of the mission include a role as a technological testbed for SSETI's next project - the European Student Earth Orbiter planned for launch aboard an Ariane 5 rocket around 2008. SSETI Express also was devised to serve as a motivational aid and an important demonstration of the capabilities of the student teams before more complex missions are undertaken.
SSETI Express carries three tiny Cubesat picosatellites provided by organizations from around the world. The XI-V Cubesat is from the University of Tokyo in Japan and the UWE-1 Cubesat was built and integrated by students at Germany's University of Wurzburg. Another picosatellite called NCUBE-2 is from students scattered across Norway. The trio was to be deployed by a T-Pod device from the UTIAS Space Flight Laboratory of Toronto.
The 137-pound satellite will also take pictures of Earth and serve the amateur radio community with S-band and UHF radio systems.
Another educational satellite launched into orbit was Mozhayets 5, which was designed by students at the Mozhaisky Military Space Academy in Russia. The new craft will replace earlier versions flown by the students and will test optical laser communications, according to Russian news reports.
The Sinah-1 microsatellite brings Iran into the final frontier with its launch Thursday. The nation's first satellite was built for Iran by the Russian Polyot design bureau, and arrived at Plesetsk on October 19. A delay at its factory postponed the launch from its original target date in late September.
Iran's second satellite named Mesbah is expected to join Sinah-1 in space within the next few months, followed by yet another next year. A report from the Agence France-Presse last week indicated Sinah-1 would carry out a mission of communications and monitoring natural disasters.