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Friday, Aug. 31, 2012
Revolutionary microsatellite set for ISS launch
By REINA KUROBORI
FUKUOKA — Takushi Tanaka can't wait for a microsatellite his project team developed for a unique mission to be released from the international space station in September.
If successful, his team's FIT-SAT-1 invention would become the first microsatellite to beam images back to Earth via a high-speed transmitter. On a less serious note, the LED-equipped satellite also will send greeting messages to Earth in Morse code, in the first experiment of its kind.
"I hope people will look up at the night sky and take an interest in space," said Tanaka, a professor of computer and engineering who heads Fukuoka Institute of Technology's satellite project.
The 10-cu.-cm satellite, which weighs a mere 1.33 kg, has been nicknamed Niwaka, after Fukuoka's traditional comic art-form known as Hakata Niwaka.
"I wanted the satellite to be remembered as manufactured in Fukuoka," Tanaka, 68, explained.
Niwaka, together with four other microsatellites, was sent to the ISS aboard the Konotori cargo transfer vehicle that japan sent to space in July. Astronaut Akihiko Hoshide will release the five microsatellites from the space station's Kibo module with the aid of a robotic arm. Through the aid of solar panels, Niwaka will orbit the Earth for some 100 days.
Tanaka originally specialized in artificial intelligence, but when the Japan aerospace exploration agency publicly invited submissions for microsatellites in March 2011, he realized that he still had a passion for space.
He decided to develop a satellite based on his knowledge of amateur radio and was assisted by experts in such fields as machine structure and heat and vibrancy calculations. Around 30 people, including his students, helped to develop the satellite.
Niwaka has two missions. Its major objective is to use a high-speed transmitter created by Tanaka's institute and send photos to a base station at the college. Two cameras attached to the satellite will snap shots every 10 seconds in turn and store 20 images. A high-speed transmitter will then send images the size of a postcard to Earth in just five seconds — at present, a conventional transmitter takes this long to beam back an image the size of a stamp.
"Launching satellites is expensive. If the mission succeeds, it will facilitate the development and launch of other microsatellites for the same cost as conventional satellites," Tanaka said.
Niwaka's second — and more playful — mission is to become "an artificial star" through 82 LEDs attached to its top and bottom, which will signal the message "Hi, this is Niwaka Japan" in Morse code.
According to calculations, the lights' brightness is expected to be of the fifth to seventh magnitude, meaning anyone with binoculars in both the northern and southern hemispheres should be able to view it.