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One of the least remembered Amateur Radio satellites enjoyed a flicker of fame in 1997 when a Russian cosmonaut, with help from a U.S. astronaut, tossed the so-called Mini-Sputnik, a.k.a. PS-2, RS-17 and Sputnik 40, out of Mir space station's airlock door.
AMSAT-F photo by F6BVP
Click to enlarge (74k)
The Mini-Sputnik had been built by students in Russia and France and trucked up to the space station in the Russian cargo freighter Progress M-40.
It was launched from Mir on November 4, 1997, to commemorate the fortieth anniversary of the launching of the first artificial Earth satellite, Sputnik-1, on October 4, 1957.
On that day aboard the space station, U.S. astronaut David Wolf, KC5VPF, helped cosmonauts Anatoly Solovyev and Pavel Vinogradov turn on and check out the small satellite's transmitter. Then Solovyev and Vinogradov went outside to toss it overboard. [learn about Iskra, the first hand-launched hamsats]
Mini-Sputnik was a working one-third scale model of the original. When it left the space station, it became satellite number 24958 in NASA's catalog. It had its fifteen minutes of fame, but today, against the prominence of the microsats, pacsats, UoSATs and other celebrated hamsats, this tiny little package is all but forgotten.
One-third scale model. Where Sputnik-1 was a relatively large 23 inches in diameter and weighed 184 pounds, the Mini-Sputnik was only about eight inches and about six pounds. The Mini-Sputnik sphere transmitted a "beep-beep" beacon on 145.820 MHz. Sputnik-1's beacon had transmitted on 20 MHz. Does anyone remember that WWV shut down its 20 MHz transmitter during evening overhead passes of Sputnik-1?
The small device was powered by three one-pound packs of four lithium batteries, each delivering 3.5 volts. The transmitter delivered 250 mW of RF to a circularly polarized, 500 mm antenna. It could be heard both as SSB and FM. While it sounded better on SSB, the Doppler shift made it more complex to locate it in with that receiving mode at the beginning and at end of the satellite's visibility.
Easy to receive. Hams on Earth's surface were able to hear the signal using 2-meter hand-held transceivers and scanners. Doppler caused the received signal to appear to range in frequency from 145.827 MHz at acquisition of signal (AOS) to 145.819 at loss of signal (LOS).
The audio pitch of Mini-Sputnik's signal varied with the temperature inside the spacecraft, ranging from -58 to +122 degrees F (-50 to +50 C). Mini-Sputnik took about 92 minutes to orbit Earth.
It was reported that the first ham to hear RS-17 was Russian operator Sergey Samburov, RV3DR, who was in the club station at Energia in Korolev, Russia, monitoring signals from Mir for the crew spacewalk. When Wolf, Solovyev and Vinogradov turned on the RS-17 transmitter, RV3DR heard the strong signal.
Waiting to pitch. When Solovyev and Vinogradov stood up in the hatch, they couldn't release the satellite until the station had rotated 180 degrees on its axis to face them away from the direction of flight. They held onto Mini-Sputnik through one orbit, then tossed it. The little satellite drifted away, behind and below Mir.
As Mini-Sputnik looped around the globe, reception was reported coast-to-coast across the United States and around the globe. Early news of its over-flights came from Australia, the U.S., Great Britain, France, Russia and FR5KJ, the club station at Jules Reydellet College on Reunion Island where the ARRL noted that a great cheer had gone up from the hams, students and teachers gathered to listen to the Sputnik model as it passed overhead on its initial orbit.
Those French college students had constructed the transmitter used in the satellite while the Russian students at the Polytechnic Laboratory of Nalchik Kabardine had built the satellite body. In fact, two working models had been assembled and transported to Mir, but only one was launched. Technical assistance was provided by AMSAT-France. The project was funded by private donations.
'Energizer Bunny'. As the Mini-Sputnik satellite beacon transmitter continued to beep away week after week, the ARRL referred to it as the "orbiting equivalent of the Energizer Bunny." In fact, it functioned longer than the original Sputnik-1 radio had 40 years earlier. Sputnik-1 had transmitted only for about one month and later dropped from orbit Jan. 1, 1958.
When Mini-Sputnik became a silent key and ceased transmitting on December 29, 1997, it had surpassed the radio life of its original namesake by several weeks. Mini-Sputnik's builders had hoped the little satellite would work for 40 days. Instead, its transmitter worked almost eight weeks, sending down its beep-beep signal for 55 days, more than two weeks longer than expected.
Learn more about the Mini-Sputnik:
AMSAT-F data and photos
The sound of Mini-Sputnik (longer)
The sound of Mini-Sputnik (shorter)
The sound of Mini-Sputnik
The sound of the original Sputnik-1
Movie of Mini-Sputnik hand launch (1209k)
1990s hamsats: Microsats UoSATs Radiosputniks Mini-Sputnik Fuji Badr KITsat Top of this page
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