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In milestone, TAU becomes first Israeli university to launch miniature satellite into space

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The nanosatellite was launched on Saturday evening at 7:36 pm Israel time from the NASA launch facility in Virginia

By ILANIT CHERNICK

In a momentous milestone, the first-ever nanosatellite to be designed, assembled and tested at an Israeli university was launched into space on Saturday night.

According to Tel Aviv University (TAU), which developed the TAU-SAT1, the nanosatellite was launched at 7:36 pm Israel time from the NASA launch facility in Virginia.

“TAU completed the construction of TAU-SAT1 about four months ago, sending it for pre-flight testing at the Japanese space agency JAXA,” the university said on Sunday. “About two weeks ago the nanosatellite arrived at its final stop prior to liftoff, Wallops Island in Virginia” where it ‘caught a ride’ on a NASA resupply spacecraft heading for the International Space Station.

According to Professor Colin Price, the head of TAU’s Porter Department of Environmental Studies,  this is a “big day” for the university. 

“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.”

Explaining its mission, Dr. Meir Ariel, director of TAU’s Center for Nanosatellites, said the nanosatellite will conduct several experiments including measuring cosmic radiation around the earth. 

The scientific data collected in space by the detectors, which were developed at the Soreq Nuclear Research Center (SNRC), will help design better protective gear for astronauts and space systems.

“We know that that there are high-energy particles moving through space that originate from the sun’s cosmic radiation,” Ariel said. “Our scientific task is to monitor this radiation and to measure the flux of these particles and their products.” 

He stressed 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,” he explained. “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.”

Ariel added that “the nanosatellite will orbit the earth at a speed of 27,600 km per hour, or 7.6 km per second, completing 1 orbit every 90 minutes.”

Nanosatellite TAU-SAT1 being launched into space on Saturday.
(Photo Credit: Tel Aviv University)

Explaining briefly how it was built and its size, head of Tel Aviv University’s Miniature Satellite Lab Dr. Ofer Amrani said that the “nanosatellite, or miniature satellite is of the CubeSat variety.” “The satellite’s dimensions are 10 by 10 by 30 cm, and it weighs less than 2.5 kg,” he said. “TAU-SAT1 is the first nanosatellite designed, built and tested independently in an Israeli university by researchers and students.”

Discussing the challenge of how they will extract the information from the nanosatellite, Amrani said that the team built a satellite station on the roof of the Engineering building. 

“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, that is, 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,” he explained. “Such transmissions will take place about four times a day, with each one will last less than 10 minutes.” 

Amrani pointed out that the satellite will also serve as a space relay station for amateur radio communities around the world.
Amrani said that the satellite is only expected to be active for several months because it doesn’t have an 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,” he concluded.

The TAU research team is are already aiming for its next target – TAU-SAT2.
The idea, the university said, is that any researcher and any student, from any school at Tel Aviv University, or outside of it, “will be able to plan and launch experiments into space in the future – even without being an expert on space.”

The work for TAU-SAT1 was done at the Center for Nanosatellites, an interdisciplinary endeavor between the Iby and Aladar Fleischman Faculty of Engineering and the Porter School of the Environment and Earth Sciences at the Raymond and Beverly Sackler Faculty of Exact Sciences and the Soreq Nuclear Research Center.

*Featured Image: The TAU-SAT1 team working on the nanosatellite at Tel Aviv University. (Photo Credit: Tel Aviv University)

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