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Space Blog

UoSAT-2 helped bridge the Pole

After 25 years of providing small satellites, it’s hard to believe that SSTL was established as an offshoot of the University of Surrey (a close tie we still benefit from today) where, in a small lab, the small satellite revolution all began. One of the inaugural satellites to come out of the work at the University was UoSat-2, the 60kg communications satellite launched in 1984. Almost 3 decades on, we take a look at the incredible story of UoSAT-2 and the 1988 Polar Bridge Expedition.

The Polar Bridge Expedition, also known as Ski Trek, was made up of a group of intrepid explorers from Canada and the USSR who crossed the Arctic Ocean from Siberia to Ward Hunt Island, just off Canada, via the North Pole between March and June 1988.

The problem with an expedition like this, in a time before the Internet or GPS, was how to effectively communicate with the group and how to work out their position. This was especially true for a group that was skiing over the North Pole with no help from dogs, sledges or automobiles. All equipment had to fit in their rucksacks.

The University of Surrey was approached in 1986 to look at the feasibility of using UoSat-2 to relay information to and from the skiers during their mission. The expedition used two low earth orbit satellites to work out the position of the skiers (using an Emergency Locator Transmitter) as well as traditional celestial measurements. The two search and rescue satellites, SARSAT and COPAS sent the latest position of the expedition to their ground stations.

When processed, the data was sent directly to the skiers with short wave amateur radio as well as to the University of Surrey UoSAT ground station in Guildford, UK. The information was then relayed as a spoken message by UoSAT-2’s computer speech synthesizer (called a Digitalker). You can listen to the Digitalker on the expedition homepage .

UoSat-2 had a sun-synchronous low earth orbit and flew over the pole every 98 minutes at which point the group could receive the broadcast from the satellite using their small handheld radios (ICOM 2ATs designed to work at very low temperatures).

Not only did this communication system support the group through temperatures of -50°C, blizzards and polar obstacles, the audio reports were also distributed world-wide using Amateur packet radio and amateur satellites. The daily progress of the skiers was followed by thousands of people (including radio amateurs and school children) via UoSAT-2.





23 October 20120 Comments1 Comment

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