Hearing Voices From Space
As the space suit floats through the empty void and orbits our planet, its radio broadcasts signals to the Earth below. On the surface, amateur radio operators receive the transmission and hear a voice. Coming from the suit, as it floats alone, away from the international space station, is the voice of a child.
Image to right: Suitsat-1 will use a Russian Orlan space suit like the one pictured here. Credit: NASA
This may sound like something out of science fiction, but it's actually something that will happen in February 2006. But, don't worry -- no children will be harmed. Instead, the free-floating space suit will be unmanned, and the voices will be pre-recorded.
Currently aboard the international space station is an extra Russian Orlan space suit, which has reached the end of its lifespan and can no longer be worn. To dispose of it, the crew of the space station will send it on one final mission. During a spacewalk scheduled for February 2006, the extra suit will be pushed into space, where it will become an independent satellite -- Suitsat-1.
Image to left: A control panel on the outside of the space suit will let the crew activate Suitsat-1 when it's deployed. Credit: NASA
Although no one will be inside the suit, it won't actually be empty. Suitsat-1 (also known in Russia as Radioskaf or Radio Sputnik) will carry a radio transmitter, sensors and materials created by students around the world, including voice recordings and artwork. The suit will broadcast on amateur radio (also known as "ham radio") frequencies, which are above the FM broadcast band. While Suitsat-1 remains in orbit, students, scouts, teachers, ham radio operators and the general public are encouraged to tune into the signal, which will include the student recordings, information about the condition of the suit and a special commemorative picture.
So, how will you prove to your friends that you've been hearing voices from space? Anyone who receives the voice signals or captures the commemorative picture Suitsat-1 beams down can receive a certificate. In addition, included in the transmission will be special words recorded by the Suitsat student "crew members" from around the world. Students who find these special words will receive an additional award. Because the words are in different languages (English, French, German, Spanish, Russian and Japanese), students are encouraged to work with others who speak those languages.
Suitsat-1 will also carry a disc containing over 300 items submitted by schools (including several NASA Explorer Schools) and other educational organizations around the world. These include such things as creative artwork, student signatures, class and group pictures, and logos of schools or scout troops.
Image to right: Students from all over the world contributed materials for the Suitsat-1 CD. Credit: NASA
When Suitsat-1 is "launched" from the space station, the crew will place it in a trajectory that will cause it to de-orbit, re-enter Earth's atmosphere and burn up. How long it transmits depends on how long it takes the suit to get hot enough that it can no longer broadcast. While mission planners estimate that should take a week or two, they are not certain. Suitsat-1 could broadcast for as little as an hour or as much as several weeks, so anyone interested in hearing it should be ready to listen as soon as possible after it is deployed.
Transmissions from Suitsat-1 will be on a frequency of 145.990 MHz FM. They can be picked up easily with a VHF hand-talkie ham radio, and can also be heard with other FM VHF receivers, such as police-band scanners. Using an external or ground-based antenna will make it easier to receive the signal and to hear it longer during each pass.
Suitsat-1 is sponsored by the Amateur Radio on the International Space Station group. ARISS is an organization of volunteers from national amateur radio societies around the world and the Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation.
Tools for Tracking Suitsat-1
ARISS Web site
David Hitt/NASA Educational Technology Services