RadFxSat-2 was launched Sunday, January 17, on Virgin Orbit
LauncherOne launch vehicle. Reports from the launch provider stated
that telemetry confirmed that the deploy commands had been sent and
that all of the doors opened successfully, resulting in payload orbits
that were all within the ICD limits.
Nominally, we expected to see “First (digital) Veronica” from the
RadFxSat-2 telemetry beacon commencing 54 minutes after our deployment
from the launch vehicle. That did not occur as expected.
For each of our launches, we follow a number of steps documented in
the “In Orbit Checklist” (IOC) spreadsheet. Confirmation of launch
and deployment are the first steps and then, confirmation of beacon
reception. All other steps follow that but there are steps in case of
anomaly, beginning with the detection of the beacon.
As always, from the moment we are deployed we look for signs of the
beacon through the ears of amateur radio operators and other means,
SatNOGS and webSDR to name a few. The antenna deployment and full
start of the IHU to bring up the beacon can occur anywhere around the
globe. AMSAT greatly appreciates the ongoing and reliable help we
receive from you and it is by far the best satellite ground network
even beyond that of many commercial players, for LEO orbits.
Command coverage is limited to the United States for various reasons
including regulatory requirements, so the opportunity to exercise the
steps of the IOC occurs a few times per day as the orbit passes over
With no sign of the beacon after a few orbits offering good footprints
for reception, we proceeded with the contingency steps to verify the
presence of or activate the beacon. This past week our Engineering
and Operations Team members have been at work literally 20 hours per
day exercising all of the contingencies outlined in the IOC steps.
These steps have grown and matured with each launch of a Fox-1 program
CubeSat and are tailored to the specific satellite. RadFxSat-2, while
she may seem to be much the same as the others with the exception of
the transponder vs. FM radio, does present a number of variations to
be included in the IOC. As the results of those steps were exhausted
with no beacon detected, we added meetings and increased emails
including all of our engineers to discuss possible causes by any of
the systems and to develop further steps.
From those we drew new steps of command sequences that might overcome
whatever anomaly existed and make the beacon heard. As the week drew
on, we continued brainstorming and steps to activate other functions
that would provide proof of life. We continue to do so today and for
whatever time until we exhaust all possibilities that we are able to
draw from the expertise and satellite experience of our Engineering
Team and Operations Team drawing from the design of RadFxSat-2 and
lessons learned in the Fox-1 program as well as any from missions
prior to AMSAT’s first CubeSats.
AMSAT still needs your help as always, to help detect any sign of
activity from RadFxSat-2. This includes ability to listen for local
oscillators or transponder driver output in the case of a failed PA.
I personally ask that those of you who are and have been interested in
the entire process of bringing a new amateur radio satellite to orbit
and through end of life to continue to contribute your curiosity and
enthusiasm in exploring from your own station, to pursue the
possibilities of a successful RadFxSat-2 mission along with us. I
have received reports and queries from some of you, and I greatly
appreciate your contributions. You are in fact volunteers in the
AMSAT Engineering Team through your contribution.
If you are interested, I ask that you do due diligence in your
procedure if you think you have identified a signal by re-creating (if
possible) and verifying to yourself that what you have is credible, as
we do, before contacting us. That “standard” procedure is what adds
value by making the information actionable rather than placing the
onus of determining if it is even real upon us, because we are of
course quite busy with that already. Please email your findings to
email@example.com and allow us a day or two to acknowledge and/or
While we tend to talk about our involvement with RadFxSat-2 above all,
a real effect reaches outside our mutual desire for amateur radio
satellite fun. RadFxSat-2 is sponsored by Vanderbilt University as
part of our long partnership going back to Fox-1A. RadFxSat-2’s
mission belongs to Vanderbilt University as part of their RadFX series
of missions seeking to verify and explore radiation effects on COTS
components. Their mission coincides well with AMSAT’s desire to fly
lower cost satellite missions using COTS components, in the unfriendly
radiation environment of Earth orbit and beyond. Vanderbilt also
sponsored the CSLI for RadFxSat (one) in our Fox-1B spacecraft back in
- Their proposal was selected by NASA, flown on the ELaNa XIV
mission in November of 2017.
RadFxSat’s mission was very successful in the information provided
through the combined telemetry-gathering of all of those who pursue
our missions through FoxTelem. Vanderbilt University published their
results giving praise to AMSAT and our Fox-1 CubeSats. The experiments
we host are built by students and Vanderbilt shares the experiences
with the educational community in their area. That is a success for
AMSAT as well in our goal to provide STEM and other educational
While the RadFxSat-2 mission is problematic at this time, we will
pursue every possibility to make her work for the amateur community
and for our partner. I certainly hope to continue our partnership
with Vanderbilt, the mutual benefit is a wonderful and fun undertaking
that adds to the value of our satellites.