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The first scientific nanosatellite designed and built at Tel Aviv University will be launched into space tomorrow night

The satellite will be launched packed inside a Northrop Grumman Cygnus model supply spacecraft. Northrop Grumman's Cygnus will be launched on Saturday, 19:36 p.m. Israel time. The launch will then take place at the Atlantic Regional Space Center on Wallops Island in Virginia.

Final checks in the clean room. The nanosatellite TAU SAT1. Photo: Tel Aviv University spokesperson
Final checks in the clean room. The nanosatellite TAU SAT1. Photo: Tel Aviv University spokesperson

הThe TAU SAT1 satellite will be launched packed in a Northrop Grumman Cygnus model supply spacecraft (formerly Orbital Sciences acquired by Northrop Grumman in 2018). Cygnus will be launched on Saturday, 19:36 p.m. Israel time, followed by the launch at the Atlantic Regional Space Center on Wallops Island in Virginia. At a later stage, the space station staff will release it and bring many more satellites into space, so this time it is an intermediate stage.

For many months, during the Corona epidemic, members of the satellite team of Tel Aviv University spent the last tests of the TAU SAT1 satellite, The first university nanosatellite, which they have characterized and built here on campus over the past two years. It's not every day you pack a satellite in a suitcase and drive it to the airport. To be honest, from the moment he signs his passport in Israel until he arrives at the International Space Station, he has a long way to go. Now, after many tests, it is ready for launch, and if there are no last minute changes - it will be launched on 20.2.21 to the International Space Station, and from there it will set out on its research journey following the unknown. The launch will be broadcast live And everyone is welcome to watch.

A small satellite - a big step

Tel Aviv University has built a satellite and it is ready for launch. The TAU-SAT1 nanosatellite was characterized, developed, assembled and tested within the framework of the Center for Nanosatellites, an interdisciplinary activity of The Ivy and Alder Fleishman Faculty of EngineeringRaymond and Burley Sackler Faculty of Exact Sciences and the Porter School of Environment and Earth Sciences.

"TAU-SAT1 is the first nanosatellite that was designed, built and tested independently in academia," explains Dr. Ofer Amarni, head of the Laboratory for Small Satellites at Tel Aviv University. "It is a nano-satellite, or tiny satellite, of the 'cube satellite' type, whose dimensions are 10 x 10 x 30 cm, the size of a shoe box, and it weighs less than 2.5 kg."

The research satellite will conduct several experiments in orbit. Among other things, it will measure the cosmic radiation in space. "It is known that there exists in space the movement of energetic particles originating from cosmic radiation," says Dr. Meir Ariel, director of the center for nano satellites at the university. "Our scientific mission is to monitor this radiation and measure the flux of particles and their products. It must be understood that the space environment is a hostile environment for humans but also for electronic systems. When these particles hit astronauts or electronic equipment in space, they can cause significant damage. The scientific information that will be collected by our satellite will make it possible to design protective measures for astronauts and space systems. For this purpose, we integrated in the satellite a number of experiments, developed by the Space Environment Department at the Sorek Nuclear Research Center.

The forecast in space: storms on the surface of the sun

in the Department of Environmental Studies at the Porter School of Environment and Earth Sciences Interested in what is known as 'space weather'. "This weather is related to the storms that occur on the surface of our Sun, and affect the environment around the Earth," says Prof. Colin Price, head of the Department of Environmental Studies and head of the satellite project, and explains, "When there are storms on the Sun, energetic particles are fired at the Earth at a speed of hundreds of kilometers per second, and when they hit the Earth's atmosphere, they can cause a lot of damage to satellites, spacecraft and even astronauts. The effects of such storms can reach Earth hours or days later. TAUSAT1 will study these storms and their effect on the atmosphere at an altitude of 400 km above the Earth. We want to know everything about these microscopic particles. How do they change in time and space around the earth? What kind of particles are these? What energies do they have and more. The experiment will test the damage produced by these tiny particles, and the results we get will help us understand the difficulties the satellite experiences in space due to the weather."

Satellite station on the roof of the faculty building

Another issue that preoccupied the researchers was how to extract the data that the satellite would collect. At an altitude of 400 km above sea level, TAU-SAT1 will circle the country at a dizzying speed of 27,600 km/h, or 7.6 km per second. At this speed, the satellite will complete a circle around the Earth every 90 minutes. "For this purpose, we built a dedicated satellite station on the roof of the Faculty of Engineering building," says Dr. Amarni. "Our station, which is also used as a radio amateur station, includes several antennas and an automatic mechanized control system. When the TAU-SAT1 will pass 'over' the State of Israel, i.e. within a radius of several thousand km from the reception range of the ground station, the antennas will follow the satellite's trajectory and a process of data transmission will take place between the satellite and the station. Such suits occur about four times a day, each lasting less than 10 minutes. In addition to its scientific mission, the future of the satellite will also serve as a space relay for the community of radio enthusiasts around the world."

And this is just the beginning

In total, the satellite is expected to be active for several months. Since it does not have an engine, its trajectory will change over time as a result of atmospheric drag and it will eventually burn up in the atmosphere and return to us as stardust. But according to Dr. Amarni the launch of TAU-SAT1 is only the first step of Tel Aviv University on the way to join the "new space" revolution.

"The idea behind the new space revolution is to open up space to civilian players as well. If in the not-too-distant past satellites required very expensive development, which took many years and required large and cumbersome government systems, we finished planning, assembling and testing our satellite in less than two years. The satellite was built and tested with the help of a team of students and research students. In addition, we set up the infrastructure on our own - from the clean rooms, through the various test facilities such as the thermal vacuum chamber, to the reception and transmission station we placed on the roof. Now that the infrastructure is ready, we approach the development of TAU-SAT2. The idea is that every researcher and every student from every faculty at Tel Aviv University, or outside of it, will be able in the future to plan and launch experiments into space - even without being an expert in the field of space."

"Only two years from the start of all the above-mentioned activity until the satellite was released on its way, constitute a period of time and an achievement that would not have been possible had it not been for the involvement of many parties: the university management who supported the project and the establishment of the infrastructure within the campus, Prof. Yossi Rosenox, Dean of the Faculty of Engineering, Professors Sivan Toledo , Colin Price and Haim Suchovsky from the Faculty of Exact Sciences, and most important of all - the project team that engaged in R&D around the clock: Elad Sagi, Dolev Bashi, Tomer Nahum, Idan Finkelstein, Dr. Diana Laufer, David Shtibelman, Eitan Schlissel, Eran Levin, David Greenberg , Sharon Mashal and Orly Bloomberg".

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