London, UK: A group of scientists and engineers University College London’s Mullard Space Science Laboratory scheduled an ambitious project to revive Prospero satellite, the first UK satellite. It was launched on 28 October 1971 and still is in orbit. It was launched by UK’s own launch vehicle, Black Arrow rocket.
Carrying a series of experiments to investigate the effects of the space environment, the satellite operated successfully until 1973 and was contacted annually until 1996. Now, a team led by PhD student Roger Duthie is hoping to re-establish communications in time for the satellite’s 40th anniversary. “First, we have to re-engineer the ground segment from knowledge lost, then test the communications to see if it is still alive,” Duthie said.
The satellite was built by Space Department at the Royal Aircraft Establishment in Farnborough but the department was broken up long ago and the codes to contact Prospero were missing. “The technical reports made in the 1970s were thought to have been lost,” explained Duthie. “We talked to the people involved in Prospero, searched through dusty boxes in attics and tried the library at Farnborough.”
Eventually they discovered the codes typed on a piece of paper in the National Archives at Kew, London. But even with the codes, the engineers still have to build equipment to “talk” to the satellite and win approval from the broadcast regulator Ofcom to use Prospero’s radio frequencies – these days being employed by other satellite operators.
Once this “ground segment” is complete, the plan is to test the technology to see if it is still possible to communicate with Prospero before attempting any public demonstration. If the satellite is still alive, some of the experiments might even be working.
“It’s an artefact of British engineering; we should find out how it’s performing,” said Duthie. If it works, Duthie’s team can call themselves the world’s first astro-archaeologists, BBC quoted in its report.