Australian Satellite all Set for Japanese Blast Off

Australia’s historic FedSat satellite will face its biggest challenge tomorrow (Saturday, December 14) when it blasts-off from Japan on board a 53-metre rocket.

Travelling on the Japanese H-2A rocket at speeds exceeding 2,500km/hr, the satellite will have to endure violent vibrations and G-forces up to 50 times the force of gravity before it leaves the earth’s atmosphere.

It will then be injected into space 800km above Western Australia by a small explosion just large enough to force the satellite away from the launch vehicle and safely into its own 25,000km/hr orbit.

The launch and a spectacular “rocket cam” view from the launch vehicle will be streamed live on the web at www.nasda.go.jp/index_e.

Executive director of FedSat’s creator, the CRC for Satellite Systems, said the launch was the most challenging, and exciting moment, for the satellite.

“This is the moment that we have been waiting for, and working towards, for more than five years,” Dr Brian Embleton said.

“A team of engineers and researchers from all over Australia has worked tirelessly to design and build the satellite, prepare the systems and on-board experiments and to vibration-test the satellite for launch.

“It is going to be a huge event for the team to see their project, quite literally, taken out of their hands and sent into space.”

Once FedSat is in orbit, the next challenge for engineers on the ground will be to “acquire” and “turn on” the satellite.

“The satellite’s ground station is in Adelaide, so we have to wait for FedSat to orbit the earth six times – for 10 hours – before it passes over Adelaide and we have our first chance to communicate with it,” Dr Embleton said.

“This involves radio waves being sent up from a satellite dish at the University of South Australia, and these have to connect with the satellite to tell its systems to turn themselves on.”

Dr Embleton said this was a precise operation which could take several tries – and many orbits – if the satellite was not in the exact location planned, or if it was rotating too fast. 

“We hope to acquire the satellite on the first try, at 10pm on Saturday night, but there is always a chance that it could take us several days,” he said.

Dr Embleton said once FedSat was operational, it would conduct experiments in communication technologies, global positioning systems (GPS), computing and space science.

One of its research projects will be studying a new high-frequency band, which could potentially help provide broadband Internet services to rural Australia.

Also on board is a CD-ROM, specially crafted out of nickel to withstand the launch, on which are recorded hundreds of goodwill messages the public phoned in to the CRC.

“These messages will be like a ‘time capsule in space’, travelling around the earth as long as the satellite orbits,” Dr Embleton said.

Dr Embleton said FedSat was expected to orbit the earth for many decades – perhaps up to a century – before gravity pulled it back to earth.