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13 April 2012
Schools can link to new satellite

Schools will be able to make a link to Scotland’s first satellite. UKube-1, due for launch next year, will contain a package with a strong beacon for schools to receive. A second system, being developed by UK students, will allow some operations to be programmed from a distance.

The satellite reception system, called FUNcube, has been developed to enable anyone to try to receive a signal from orbit. A simple receiver board (the FUNcube Dongle) is being developed, for connection to the USB port of a laptop and thereby act as a ground station.

The FUNcube project has been developed by AMSAT-UK, an organisation of UK radio amateurs who track signals from satellites. The FUNcube system is aimed at primary schools as well as secondaries, with the aim of enthusing and educating young people about space, electronics, physics and radio.

The signals that can be received will give information about the state of UKube-1, and it will be possible to plot simple graphs to determine aspects such as its rate of spin.

The second educational package, called OpenSpace365, will allow 365 school pupils, university students and hobbyists to have a day each to provide the satellite with instructions – a virtual payload. The system is based around an open source electronic kit, the Arduino platform. Information about the Arduino and how to write software for it is provided at the Arduino website.

The OpenSpace365 hardware on the satellite will include accelerometers, magnetometers, temperature sensors, camera and much more, and so the challenge of writing a programme for a day’s activities will be to identify ways of using some of these small items of equipment for particular work.

The package is being developed by UKSEDS, the UK part of an international student-based organisation formed to enrich space-related education. The project will be open to all at openspace365.org approximately three months before the scheduled launch of UKube-1.

‘However,’ they say, ‘we are looking for enthusiastic schools, students or private individuals who would like to have early access to the beta version of our open source open access virtual payload development kit to make sure that it is easy to understand and use. If you are interested in helping with this, please email beta@openspace365.org to volunteer. Members of the beta test program that develop payloads will be among the first OpenSpace365 payloads to fly in space.’