The five CubeSats making up the BIRDS-1 (Joint Global Multi-Nation Birds) constellation were deployed into orbit from the International Space Station (ISS) on July 7. Each carries an Amateur Radio payload but no transponders. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) module’s remote manipulator arm was used to accomplish the launches.
“Another great example of international cooperation today on @Space_Station — launched 5 micro-satellites from 5 countries off the JAXA arm!” tweeted ISS crew member Jack Fischer K2FSH (@Astro2fish).
The BIRDS-1 constellation of five 1U CubeSats — BIRD-B, BIRD-J, BIRD-G, BIRD-M, and BIRD-N — are all of the same design, and all use the same Amateur Radio frequency. They were launched to the ISS on June 3. The main mission of the 2-year project is to use the constellation to carry out radio communication experiments via a network of UHF/VHF Amateur Radio ground stations around the world.
Four faculty members — including Yasuhiro Tokunaga, JG6YBW — and 15 students at Japan’s Kyushu Institute of Technology (Kyutech) are coordinating the experiment, with participation from student engineering teams at universities in Bangladesh, Ghana, Mongolia, Nigeria, Thailand, and Taiwan.
The challenges will be to distinguish each CubeSat from its companion spacecraft transmitting on the same frequency, hand over operation of a satellite from one ground station to another, and assemble the satellite data — such as housekeeping telemetry, music and Earth images — obtained at different ground stations.
Radio amateurs have been invited to join the network to assist in the data downlink and reconstruction of patchy satellite data into meaningful data. Orbit information and the operational plan of each satellite is to be made available to the Amateur Radio community, along with software to decode the satellite data.
One unusual onboard mission is a digi-singer (SNG), aimed at broadcasting music from space to Earth. The SNG music-exchange mission will take music in MIDI format uploaded from Earth, process it onboard using a vocal synthesizer, and retransmit it back to Earth on UHF FM.
Amateur Radio stations that successfully decode the telemetry data, music, and Earth images will receive a QSL card from the BIRDS team. The reconstructed data will be posted.
According to the IARU, the satellites have CW, 1.2k bps AFSK FM, audio FM, and 9.6k bps GMSK downlinks on a coordinated downlink frequency of 437.375 MHz.