Montana State Satellite

In 2001, I was part of a team that set out to replicate the space science performed by Explorer-1 in 1958. Explorer-1 was 25 pounds, and our solution was a 2.2 pound, 10cm by 10cm cube called MEROPE. I was on the payroll for a few summers, working on the grounds station design, researching tracking software and antenna theory.

Our launch provider was set to launch another twenty some cube sats like ours atop a converted intercontinental ballistic missile payload. After getting pushed out past my graduation date, the launch finally went down from Kahzikstan in July of 2006. Though the Dnepr rockets had a 97% success rate, our satellite ended up in a crater of parts and pollutants during the second minute after liftoff…

msu merope

Rest in peaces.

That hydrolic failure was a setback. The good news was the fact that the engineering plans were complete and ground station built…the rest ended up waiting on a *cheap ride to orbit for the next version. The bad news was that the next launch also failed, as the velocity was too low to maintain orbit. 0 for 2.

The newest version manifested itself as Explorer-1[prime]:


E1P launched successfully on October 28th. The HAM radio community has been busy tracking the orbiter along with the team from MSU’s SSEL…as of yesterday afternoon, they had over 1000 packets received.

The mission has two main scientific systems in play: a passive dampening system and a Geiger tube to measure the Van Allen radiation belts. It is a proof of concept per se…showing that some solid science can be done on a budget. The cube is in an elliptical polar orbit, and high enough to stay aloft for a decade. As so long as the com board stays functional, this satellite can be monitored via HAM (@ K7MSU…don’t quote me on that) frequencies. MSU has prepared a UI to snag and analyze the packets…I might play around with that down the road.

Currently, the satellite is loud. They have it configured to blast huge signals still, as the dampening system is still doing its thing. Once the trajectory smooths, it will be tuned down and should be more predictable.

I’ll be watching this one. Good stuff from the alma mater.

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