One year has passed since the first launch of the European rocket Vega and first Polish satellite PW-Sat.
Vega is a new European small launcher – its first (and so far only) launch happened on the 13th of February 2012. This rocket is capable of placing 1.5 tons of payload to highly inclined orbits. Vega can launch various types of satellites, including those made for Earth Observation (EO), small satellites and even series of miniaturized satellites of the CubeSat format. It is predicted that in the perspective of next few years Vega might be an important player on the launcher market, especially when several Russian rockets will be put out of service.
Launch of Vega rocket – 13.02.2012 / Credits – ESA
The next launch of Vega is scheduled to take place in April 2013. Onboard the second Vega several satellites will be launched to orbit, including a small Vietnamese EO satellite – VNREDSat-1A. Next launches of Vega are planned as well – several satellites from the upcoming European GMES Copernicus system will be launched by this rocket.
At the same time, Vega is capable of delivering series of miniaturized satellites into orbit, for example of the CubeSat format. This asset of Vega was demonstrated on its first flight, when seven CubeSats were launched. Among these seven there was the first Polish satellite – PW-Sat. This CubeSat was designed and built by students from the Student Space Association and Student Space Engineering Scientific Group, which function at the Warsaw University of Technology. Their work was supported by the Space Research Center.
PW-Sat was launched on the 13th of February 2012 at 11:00 CET. One hour and ten minutes later the first signal from PW-Sat was received by ground stations, which was already a big achievement for this mission. Next the regular work with PW-Sat begun. During first few weeks ground stations were listening to the PW-Sat and satellite operational parameters were verified. Later, students from the Warsaw University of Technology were testing several modes of PW-Sat’s operations, which was one of several mission goals. At that time the PW-Sat was functioning properly and it was projected that before Easter 2012 the satellite’s deorbiting structure will be deployed. Unfortunately, this did not happen – it turned out that initial operations of the satellite consumed a significant amount of available energy and any energy-consuming activity, such as the deployment of a deorbiting structure had to be delayed.
Elements of the PW-Sat / Credits – Maciej Urbanowicz
In May 2012 another series of attempts to open the deorbiting structure were initiated. Unfortunately, these were not successful as well. One year after the launch of PW-Sat (13th of February 2013) the satellite is still on orbit and its deorbiting structure is not deployed. The satellite is operational, but the communication is very difficult, which is probably a hardware failure.
One year after the PW-Sat launch it is certain that this project was a very successful one and the main educational goal was reached. In the future, students, who participated to PW-Sat project, will become part of the space sector. Their knowledge and experience will be an asset during upcoming, more complicated and ambitious missions. PW-Sat is also an example of the potential of Polish students, who have been actively participating in various space projects for several years.