Japanese Satellite Designed by and for Amateurs

Sprout waits for its ride into space. (Source: Nihon University/Miyazaka Laboratory

Sprout waits for its ride into space. (Source: Nihon University/Miyazaka Laboratory

Japanese engineering students sent their amateur satellite into space today. Students at Nihon University in Tokyo designed and built Sprout as a technology demonstrator and as an amateur radio project. (Sprout website, English version

Japan's H-IIA heads for space with Sprout on board (Source: JAXA/MHI)

Japan's H-IIA heads for space with Sprout on board (Source: JAXA/MHI)

Sprout hitched a ride on last night's launch of Japan's H-IIA launch vehicle. The main purpose of the launch was to get the Advanced Land Observing Satellite-2 into orbit where it will help with disaster monitoring. 

Sprout has smaller ambitions. The students will test a range of sensors and systems for controlling small satellites in orbit. At the same time amateur radio operators around the world will use Sprout’s voice and text transceivers to communicate with each other. Radio amateurs can also receive images transmitted by Sprout's slow scan television system. They can upload those images to the Sprout project's website and contribute to a global map of Earth from space. 

Sprout's final act will test inflatable structures. As the two plastic arms inflate, they deploy a triangular membrane. Higher drag created by the membrane will pull Sprout out of orbit to eliminate the risk of space debris. (Source: Nihon University/Miyazaka Laboratory)

Sprout's final act will test inflatable structures. As the two plastic arms inflate, they deploy a triangular membrane. Higher drag created by the membrane will pull Sprout out of orbit to eliminate the risk of space debris. (Source: Nihon University/Miyazaka Laboratory)

But the students' main mission for Sprout is to test inflatable space structures. Traditionally spacecraft use rigid arms to deploy solar panels and sunshields but that comes with costs in terms of reliability and weight. In late January 2015, the project team will send a command to Sprout releasing pressurized nitrogen into two folded plastic tubes. As the tubes inflate they will extend a triangular membrane. The membrane will increase atmospheric drag on Sprout and pull it out of orbit.

(Via Southgate Amateur Radio News)