It’s been a week since the St Thomas More Cathedral School’s STMSat-1 CubeSat was deployed from the International Space Station, and the spacecraft has yet to phone home. Students and faculty and the Washington, DC-area grade school now are pinning their hopes on a reboot signal that will be sent to the satellite at around 0400 UTC on May 24.
“As with any satellite, you have to be able to communicate to kill it due to security reasons,” explained STMSat-1 STM Education Manager Emily Stocker in response to an ARRL inquiry. “We built in a way to communicate to reboot, but will not receive any information regarding the satellite’s health or why we have not heard from it. This was part of our mission plan — if not heard from in 7 days, we would reboot. Cross your fingers!”
A Twitter post on behalf of STMSat-1 put it more succinctly: “System reboot today — bring me to life!”
Pupils at the school built STMSat-1 during a 4-year-long project, and the satellite was launched to the ISS last December. After being placed in orbit (it is object 41476), the CubeSat initially continued roughly in the same orbit as the ISS and of other satellites that also were deployed on May 16, but it’s been moving away a little bit each day. Stocker said last week that STMSat-1 was supposed to turn itself on once its batteries were fully charged and its mechanized antennas deployed.
The satellite is designed to transmit slow-scan television (SSTV) images of Earth on 437.800 MHz FM, although at one point, Stocker said, the school’s NASA contact indicated they should try listening on 437.000 MHz. “Many people were wondering why it was ‘changed’ to 437.000, and that was because NASA thought we may be able to hear it there instead,” Stocker told ARRL. She said NASA later advised STMSat-1 watchers to go back to monitoring the CubeSat’s IARU-coordinated frequency of 437.800 MHz and to follow the STMSat-1 Twitter feed, @STMSat11, to stay up to date.
The satellite is the first to be designed and built by grade schoolers, who were supported by NASA technical advisors and local radio amateurs. The kit-built satellite initially had been set for release into space in mid-February. That deployment was postponed until early March, however, before being put on hold again. The satellite project is part of the school’s STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) education initiatives.
NASA’s Technology Demonstration Office provided the school with a mobile “clean room” for the construction period and has been advising the school on tracking the satellite. The space agency also provided the school with a ground station antenna to receive its 70 centimeter signals, once the satellite comes to life. NASA engineers programmed the operating frequencies for the transmitter in early 2014 and have been working with the school post-deployment.