Breakthrough Launch of Israeli Campus Nanosatellite to Make It Possible for Any Student or Researcher to Plan and Launch Future Space Experiments

A tiny satellite just 10 by 10 by 30 centimeters and weighing less than two-and-a-half kilograms designed, assembled and tested on the Tel Aviv University (TAU) campus has been successfully launched. The TAU-SATI nanosatellite will measure cosmic radiation around the earth. The scientific information it collects in space with using the detector developed at the Soreq Nuclear Research Center (SNRC) will help design better protective gear for astronauts and space systems, said TAU scientists. 

As the first satellite of its kind to be created on an Israeli campus, the TAU-SATI in an unprecedented achievement that marks another milestone in the “New Space” revolution in which organizations – and not just governments – can belong to the Space Club.

 

It will orbit the earth at a speed of 27,600 kilometers per hour (7.6 kms per second), completing an orbit every 90 minutes at an altitude of 400 km above sea level. The nanosatellite was launched into orbit on Saturday from the US National Aeronautics and Space Ministry’s facility in Virginia. 


Scientists and students at the Center for Nanosatellites, an interdisciplinary endeavor between TAU’s Fleischman Faculty of Engineering and the Porter School of the Environment and Earth Sciences at the Sackler Faculty of Exact Sciences and the Soreq Nuclear Research Center are thrilled over the amazing 

 

They finished building the TAU-SAT1 about four months ago, sending it for pre-flight testing at the Japanese space agency JAXA. About two weeks ago, the nanosatellite arrived at its final stop before liftoff – the Wallops Island in Virginia, US – where it “caught a ride” on a NASA resupply spacecraft destined for the International Space Station (ISS). 

 

“It’s a big day for TAU,” commented Prof. Colin Price, head of the porter department of environmental studies. :We have now joined the ‘Civil Space Revolution’ called New Space, in which, unlike ,the Old Space, not only giant companies with huge budgets and large teams of engineers can build and launch satellites. A few years ago, we established the Center for Nanosatellites with the goal to build small ‘CubeSat’ for research purposes. Since then, we were able to prove that with the right planning, miniaturization and modulation of many technologies, small satellites can be built and launched into space within two years by students, at a fraction of the budget needed in the Old Space.”

 

Nanosatellite TAU-SAT1.
Photo credit: Tel Aviv University.

Dr. Meir Ariel, director of TAU’s Center for Nanosatellites, added: “We know that that there are high-energy particles moving through space that originate from the sun’s cosmic radiation. Our scientific task is to monitor this radiation, and to measure the flux of these particles and their products. It should be understood that space is a hostile environment, not only for humans but also for electronic systems. When these particles hit astronauts or electronic equipment in space, they can cause significant damage. The scientific information collected by our satellite will enable the design of protective means for astronauts and space systems. To this end, we incorporated into the satellite a number of experiments developed by our partners at SNRC’s space environment department who will also conduct the relevant scientific research.”

 

Another challenge involved in the project was how to extract the data collected by the TAU-SAT1 satellite. ““This is a nanosatellite – or miniature satellite – of the CubeSat variety,” explained Dr. Ofer Amrani, head of TAU’s miniature satellite lab. “To collect data, we built a satellite station on the roof of the Engineering building,” said Amrani. “Our station, which also serves as an amateur radio station, includes a number of antennas and an automated control system. When TAU-SAT1 passes over Israel within a radius of a few thousand kilometers from the ground station’s receiving range, the antennas will track the satellite’s orbit and a process of data transmission will occur between the satellite and the station.”

 

Such transmissions, he added will take place about four times a day, with each one lasting less than 10 minutes. In addition to its scientific mission, the satellite will also serve as a space relay station for amateur radio communities around the world. “In total, the satellite is expected to be active for several months. Because it has no engine, its trajectory will fade over time as a result of atmospheric drag – and eventually it will burn up in the atmosphere and come back to us as stardust.”

 

TAU researchers are already aiming for their next target – TAU-SAT2: “We built the infrastructure for developing TAU-SAT1 on our own – from the cleanrooms, through the various testing facilities such as the thermal vacuum chamber, to the receiving and transmission station we placed on the roof. Now that the infrastructure is ready, we can begin to develop TAU-SAT2. The idea is that any researcher and any student, from any school at TAU or outside of it will be able to plan and launch experiments into space in the future – even without being an expert on space.


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