AMSAT-UK reports that four CubeSats will comprise the BIRDS (Joint Global Multi-Nation Birds) constellation, which is set to deploy from the International Space Station (ISS) in 2017. The 1U CubeSats — BIRD-B, BIRD-J, BIRD-G, and BIRD-M — have identical designs, will use the same Amateur Radio frequencies, and will be deployed as a group. 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. Project literature and news releases describe the BIRDS project as a five-satellite constellation, but the International Amateur Radio Union (IARU) reports frequency coordination requests for only four.
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 will 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.