Radio amateurs in the US, Russia, Germany, and the Netherlands topped the field in a European Space Agency (ESA) Education Office competition to be the first to hear signals from three new, student-built CubeSats. All of the satellites were launched from Guiana on April 25 as part of ESA’s “Fly Your Satellite!” program, and ESA challenged the Amateur Radio community, offering prizes to the first three radio amateurs to submit a recorded signal from OUFTI-1 from France, e-st@r-II from Italy, and AAUSAT4 from Denmark.
Contact with OUFTI-1 came at 0054 UTC on April 26, within 1 hour of its separation from the launcher. Dmitry Pashkov, R4UAB, heard OUFTI-1’s signal using receiving stations in Kemerovo and Ruzaevka, Russia. In 2013, Pashkov had picked up Estonia’s ESTCube-1 satellite before anyone else, and he repeated the feat the following year for the Lithuania’s LituanicaSAT-1.
A little more than an hour after the first signal from OUFTI-1 was recorded, the next CubeSat checked in. AAUSAT-4 was heard over California by Justin Foley, KI6EBT, of California Polytechnic State University. He had a personal interest in the mission, because some of his colleagues had developed the P-POD deployer used to eject the CubeSats into orbit. He heard the signal on the CubeSat’s second pass over his location at 0202 UTC.
“It was extremely exciting to see signals from the newly launched satellite, and witness the beginning of a space mission,” Foley said.
Hearing — and confirming — a signal from e-st@r-II turned out to be more of a challenge. At 0541 UTC, Mike Rupprecht, DK3WN, in Germany spotted a weak signal on his screen. “It is always a good feeling to hear the signals of new satellites,” he said, noting that a satellite’s own ground station is often not the first to receive a signal. “So the CubeSat teams are very grateful if they get help from the Amateur Radio community,” he added.
But it was not certain that the signal Rupprecht saw was from e-st@r-II. Jan van Gils, PE0SAT, in the Netherlands had to wait until May 2 at 1638 UTC to receive a signal from e-st@r-II that was strong enough to be decoded. Just why e-st@r-II’s signal was so weak is still being investigated. Rupprecht and van Gils both got credit for being first to record and submit a signal from e-st@r-II and receive one of the ESA prize packages — a Fly Your Satellite! Poster, a goodie bag, and a scale 1:1 3D-printed model of a CubeSat.
ESA made special mention of 12-year-old space enthusiast Matteo Micheletti in Belgium, who caught the OUFTI-1 signal with a portable log periodic antenna and receiver. His triumph occurred on May 1 between 1734 and1739 UTC.
“Competitions like this help to demonstrate that space is not that far away,” said Fly Your Satellite! Program Manager Piero Galeone. “The launch and the start of operations of these three student-built CubeSats were a terrific success, and I’m delighted that hundreds of people from around the world joined us in the effort to catch their first signals.”
OUFTI-1 (Orbital Utility For Telecommunication Innovations) was constructed by students at the University of Liege in Belgium (ULg) and carries the first D-STAR payload in space; OUFTI-1 transmits on 145.950 MHz (FSK AX.25 and D-STAR down, with an uplink at 435.045 MHz. OUFTI-1 carries a CW beacon transmitting on 145.980 MHz. e-st@r-II, from the University of Turin, transmits CW and 1.2 k AFSK on 437.485 MHz. AAUSAT4 from the University of Aalborg, Denmark, will operate an automated ocean vessel identification system. It transmits on 437.425 MHz.