Wednesday, 14 December 2005

Fedsat Lives!

Today, I went to the Fedsat "Mission Accomplished" celebration. All 15 mission objectives complete, the last, 3 years of continuous operation, completed today.

It was also something of a wake. You see, the Co-operative Research Centre for Satellite Systems (CRCSS) didn't get funded in the 2003 funding round. That meant that it will be closing down in a matter of weeks, at the end of 2005. Australia doesn't have a Space Agency as such: the CRCSS, re-funded every few years as a commercial co-operative between Government and Industry was the closest thing we had. Had (past tense) being the operative word.

Co-operative Research Centres are funded on the basis of how likely they are to give a good commercial return on investment in the medium term - no longer than 5 years. With the success of Fedsat, mission was accomplished, so no need to re-fund.


This is not the way to run a space programme.

So FedSat is still operational, still healthy, the Star Camera experiment being the only payload that suffered progressive failure (indicating that the University of 'Stellenbosch needs to do some more work on it). But no-one is listening any more, no funds for the ground station. FedSat was to be decommissioned today. Basically, turned off, while still 100% functional.

Zoe with the Engineering Model (minus the wiring) - click to enlarge

Fortunately... and this is a scoop.... the Australian Department of Defence realised that for a just a million dollars or so they could pick up a working satellite, filled with interesting and still state-of-the-art communications payloads. They've bought it, will continue to operate it, and make the purely scientific data available under the same conditions as before.

No formal announcement has been made yet, so you heard it here first. Fedsat Lives!

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