Sunday, 30 July 2006

Requiem for JAEsat

From :
A civilian Dnepr rocket built from a modified intercontinental ballistic missile failed to carry a clutch of small satellites into orbit Wednesday as it crashed just south of its Central Asian launch site, according to Russian wire reports.

The Dnepr’s engine apparently shut down prematurely just after rocketing spaceward from its Baikonur Cosmodrome launch pad in Kazakhstan, Russian space officials told the Interfax News Agency. The rocket was scheduled to launch at 3:43 p.m. EDT (1943 GMT) and reach orbit a short time later.
Today’s unsuccessful launch was slated to orbit a fleet of 14 CubeSat microsatellites built by 10 universities around the world. Additional payloads reportedly included a pair of satellites dubbed JAEsats, as well as others called BelKa, Baumanets and UniSat 4.

JAEsat. Otherwise known as the Joint Australian Engineering satellite, one of the three viable projects resulting from Australia's short-lived second space programme.

From Journal of Global Positioning Systems (2005) Vol. 4, No. 1-2: 277-283 :
JAESat is a joint micro-satellite project between Queensland University of Technology (QUT), Australian Space Research Institute (ASRI) and other national and international partners, i.e. Australian Cooperative Research Centre for Satellite Systems (CRCSS), Kayser-Threde GmbH, Aerospace Concepts and Auspace which contribute to this project. The JAESat project is conducted under the leadership of the Queensland University of Technology.
The CRCSS lost its funding some time ago, as I've already blogged about before. ASRI is an all-volunteer group, funded by a single minor corporate sponsor, and many private donations from individuals, most of whom aren't exactly well-off.
The JAESat mission outlined in Enderle (2002, 2004) will ultimately consist of two micro-satellites (see Figure 1) which will fly in a formation. The JAESat micro-satellite itself will have two components, a master satellite and a so-called slave satellite. The components of JAESat will be attached to each other during the launch phase and will be separated in space, after the release of JAESat from the launcher. The JAESat mission is designed to conduct a variety of experiments based on the mode of interoperation between the payloads on-board the two satellites. A communication link between the two satellites will be established in the form of a RF Inter-Satellite Link (ISL). It is anticipated that JAESat will be launched in 2006. Negotiations with a launch provider for a piggy back launch are ongoing. For this reason the final orbit is not definite yet. However, it is intended to have a circular, nearly polar orbit with an orbit altitude of about 800 km. The operational life time of JAESat is expected to be round 12 months. After the separation of the slave from the master satellite the two satellites will drift away from each other with a low drift rate.
But no more. Hundreds of person-years effort, blood, toil, tears and sweat, and now nothing to show for it but a lot of training in skills not valued in this country. Not much money wasted though: it was always been done on a shoestring, a second-hand shoestring, mended and patched and cobbled together by people working long hours without pay.

Of course, none of this made the papers. Neither did the efforts of a dozen Universities around the world who constructed the other, less ambitious satellies, the CubeSats.

The thing is, this was fully one-third of our space effort, second only to FedSat, and even longer in gestation. The other programme, Bluesat, is a simple student project, and even shorter of funding.

This is no way to run a Space Programme. We have the technology, the imagination, the engineering excellence. We even have the dreams, though currently a lot of those are in a crater in Kazakhstan.

Ah well. Better Luck next time. For there will be a next time, funding may come, funding may go, but the Dreams never die.

It would be nice if the heroes and heroines of this project were recognised in their own country though, instead of having to go overseas for their skills to be made use of.

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