MOSCOW (Yuri Zaitsev for RIA Novosti).
The era of scientific educational satellites or student satellites, which function in the radioamateur communication range, began in 1961, when the first U.S. satellite, OSCAR-1, was launched.
The Soviet Union, which by that time had great achievements in space exploration (it launched the first satellite and made the first manned flight), lagged behind in this respect. Work to develop the first radioamateur space vehicle began at the Moscow Energy Institute (MEI) only in 1971.
Of course, there is an opinion that the first such craft was launched in 1957. The first Earth's satellite, PS-1, can also be considered partially amateur - the signals from its radio transmitter could be received all over the world. At that time the laurels could have belonged to Russia. But the satellite, unfortunately, had not been developed for that purpose and was not declared as radioamateur - there was no such notion at that time.
The starting point in developing the MEI student satellite in the 1970s was when experts understood that, when practically any space vehicle orbited, the carrier rockets could carry dozens of kilograms of payload more. In other words, it was necessary to decide what those space vehicles would do in orbit and what they could be used for.
The project of developing a satellite was the natural continuation of the scientific educational work conducted at the institute. It also involved students of the Moscow Aviation Institute (MAI) and the Central Radio Club of the Association for Assistance to the Air Force, the Army and the Navy (DOSAAF), where a public laboratory of space technology was established.
The launching was done during the design and flight-testing of the new rocket in October 1978. It was a cluster launch, as it is called now. Similar launches are widespread now to orbit micro-satellites. The MEI satellite was named Radio-2; and the DOSAAF equipment, installed as an inseparable set on Meteor, became the Radio-3 satellite. The telemetric data from all the satellites were transmitted in Morse code along an open communication channel.
Radioamateurs all over the world received the Morse signals and re-transmitted the information to the satellite flight control center, which meant communication methods were tested through space. And the designers of the instruments and equipment studied how electronic devices functioned in space.
On the whole, the scientific educational satellites proved their worth. Satellites performing similar missions were built later already using "professional" space platforms developed at by the space industry.
In March 2002, the 21st amateur satellite named Kolibri was launched from a Progress cargo spaceship. The satellite made an independent flight from the transport and launch container mounted on the hatch of the cargo spaceship. The command to separate was given after the spaceship left the International Space Station and was at a safe distance.
The satellite was developed at a design bureau of the Space Research Institute, the Russian Academy of Sciences. Nevertheless, students and schoolchildren, including some in Australia, took part in its testing, received information from the satellite and controlled the flight.
Five Mozhayets research educational satellites, designed for teaching cadets at space military schools to work with real space equipment, have been launched since November 2002. Students at the Mozhaisky Military Academy designed and built an experimental space vehicle that took the institution's name.
Another scientific training satellite Universitetsky-Tatyana was launched with the fifth Mozhayets satellite. The launching was dedicated to the 250th anniversary of the foundation of Moscow State University and so took the name of the patron saint of students in Russia, St. Tatyana.
All information received from the satellite is accessible to a large number of users and is put on the university's Web sites where it can be used for free. The research program in the educational satellite includes the study of radiation near the Earth, cosmic high-energy particles, polar lights and many other things.
At present, a new scientific educational satellite, Chibis, is being developed at the Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences. It will become the 25th "educational" space vehicle, though with a very serious program. Its functions comprise monitoring the atmosphere, including control over the spread of greenhouse gases and the detection of large emissions of hazardous substances; observing space weather, monitoring o fires and other dangerous processes on Earth; and registering bolides and meteorite flows in Earth's atmosphere. The educational part of the project has been agreed upon with schools and higher educational establishments in Russia.
Many space vehicles are today in demand all over the world, because they are an affordable way to solve problems that big satellites could previously not do. They are no longer amateur satellites, as the latest achievements of science and technology are used in designing and manufacturing them. The designs of university space satellites have been included in the general-education programs of many higher schools overseas. Russia trails some countries in this respect, but the progress the nation has made, particularly over the past few years, is obvious.
Yuri Zaitsev is an expert at the Space Research Institute