September 6, 2011 weblog
British team plans to reestablish contact with 1970’s era satellite
The satellite, called Prospero X3 (from Prospero in Shakespeare's The Tempest, who was made to relinquish his powers, an obvious dig at the governments decision to end the program) was and is the only satellite ever launched aboard an all British rocket (the Black Arrow). It was sent up shortly after the British rocketry program was ended October 28, 1971, with the purpose of learning more about the space environment.
The first challenge was finding the original codes used to communicate with Prospero, difficult because the agency that had sent up the satellite had been broken apart and been superseded by other agencies. They eventually found them in the National Archives in London.
Next, the team will need to build a system to actually communicate with the satellite since the equipment originally used is long gone. But before they can do that theyll have to obtain permission to use the necessary radio frequency from Ofcom (the British agency that regulates electronic communications) as its been usurped by other satellites.
The first step, once given the go-ahead, would be of course to determine if Prospero is still active, which seems unlikely given the length of time its been orbiting. If the satellite is still alive though and the team manages to communicate with it, they plan an as yet undetermined public demonstration, on or around October 28.
The United Kingdom is in the middle of a bit of a space exploration resurgence after abandoning most efforts to launch rockets (other than for military purposes) after the cancellation of its program in the early 1970s and vowing to avoid manned flights into space altogether. Since that time it has relied on other programs to send its satellites aloft, though it has been a part of the other projects such as the doomed Beagle 2 sent to Mars last year. Also, in a move designed to remove barriers to government investment in private projects, the British Government established the UK Space Agency, (replacing the British National Space Centre) and this year enacted legislation to reduce the liabilities that can be incurred in space operations to help boost competitiveness.
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