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Launch Nears for Mini-Satellites

Imagine a small satellite "kicking" 104 satellites the size of a large cracker into orbit around the Earth. That's about to happen and each of the satellites, called "Sprites" will have its own solar panel, logic circuitry, communications gear and sensors. 

The Sprites operate in transmit mode only and will share the same frequency (437.24 MHz) in the amateur radio band. They'll use code-division multiple access (CDMA) for frequency sharing. The effort was organized by a Cornell University professor, Zac Manchester. The Sprites will be launched using the "KickSat" satellite funded by Zac Manchester's Kickstarter project. They will transmit either the call letters or initials of contributors. The ARRL has more information on the project in its article KickSat CubeSat to Deploy Smallest Earth-Orbiting Satellites.

The Sprites will only operate when in sunlight and they will use a bandwidth of approximately 60 kHz, so a wideband receiver (or Funcube dongle or RTL-SDR) and a Yagi antenna will be needed to receive their signals. The launch is expected to take place on March 16 and the satellites could last as long as six weeks in a best-case scenario; however, you might want to listen for them soon after the launch date as they will be in a low orbit and, depending on atmospheric drag, may not last that long.

Technical details are available from British Interplanetary Society KickSat Technical Summary webpage.

Doug Lung is one of America's foremost authorities on broadcast RF technology. He has been with NBC since 1985 and is currently vice president of broadcast technology for NBC/Telemundo stations.