SuitSat falls silent in space

An innovative project to fly a makeshift radio satellite housed in an old Russian spacesuit has come to a premature end, completing only a few orbits before falling silent.

SuitSat (right) is released into orbit from the station

Bill McArthur and Valery Tokarev, who are living on the International Space Station released the satellite, dubbed SuitSat, just after floating out of the airlock module to begin a six-hour spacewalk on Saturday. Before they were back inside, however, SuitSat’s mission was over.

Rob Navias, a commentator at Nasa’s mission control centre in Houston, said: “It seems to have ceased operating very quickly after its deployment.”

The international team of ham radio enthusiasts who organised the educational project and built the hardware had expected SuitSat to last at least a few days.

SuitSat was equipped with a series of prerecorded messages and a digital image to transmit from space. However, ham radio operators reported only weak signals before the transmissions stopped altogether a few hours after SuitSat’s release.

A ham radio operator from Columbus, Georgia, noted on the project’s website ( “Well it does show how many people are interested. Maybe they will do it again.” 

Within a few weeks, SuitSat will be fall into the atmosphere and burn up.

‘It is disappointing that it didn’t go exactly as we wanted, but that’s life in the big city’

Bill McArthur, astronaut

After releasing SuitSat into space, McArthur and Tokarev tried to lock down a cable cutter on the station’s mobile transporter rail car. The mechanism triggered accidentally in December and snipped one of two cables used to relay power, data and video signals.

McArthur was to drive a bolt into the guillotine-like device to stop it firing again and severing the backup cable. The device is supposed to trigger only if the cable snags and traps the mobile platform car, a base for the station’s construction crane, between work sites.

Despite repeated attempts, McArthur could not install the bolt. Ground control teams decided instead to have McArthur pull the good cable out from the mechanism and tie it to a handrail.


“We did the best we could,” McArthur said. “It is disappointing that it didn’t go exactly as we wanted, but that’s life in the big city.”

The device is scheduled to be replaced by astronauts on the next shuttle servicing mission in May.

McArthur and Tokarev also relocated a Russian grapple fixture, completed a photo documentation of the station’s exterior and retrieved a science experiment that had been exposing microbes to the harsh environment of space.

“That was an adventure,” McArthur said after his spacewalk.

More information about SuitSat and links to further resources are available at AMSAT (The Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation) and at ARISS (Amateur Radio on the International Space Station – link is to the European site).

Source: Reuters

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