Israel is set to launch on Thursday evening its smallest “nano-satellite” yet, and it was designed and built by high school pupils.
Called Duchifat-1 (named for Israel’s national bird, otherwise known as the hoopoe), the satellite was researched and developed by pupils at the Herzliya Science Center. It is a cube 10 cm. long in each dimension, weighs 860 gr. and was made possible by the Israel Space Agency (ISA) and the Herzliya municipality.
The pupils had managed to complete the project before any academic facility and the space industry.
Six months ago, American high school pupils, supported by the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration, had launched a “nano-satellite” of their own.
The Duchifat-1 will help travelers who get lost where there is no regular reception.
The traveler will be able to send a call for help from any communication device to the “nano-satellite,” which will in turn broadcast to the Herzliya control center, identify the location and call for help.
Because 90 percent of the globe is covered by water, desert, forest and ice, there are huge areas without cellular reception, ISA director Menahem Kidron said.
“The launch marks the beginning of an era of ‘nano-satellites’ here,” said Science, Technology and Space Minister Yaakov Peri.
“It is part of the largest technological advancement in the field of space, which previously involved only huge companies and governments.
Now the technology is accessible also to research institutes and universities. The State of Israel is taking this trend one step further and integrating teenagers into it.”
The vision of building a “nano-satellite” was initiated a decade ago by Dr. Anna Heller, a teacher at the Herzliya center and director of a space laboratory in the center of the country.
Over the years, more than 200 pupils took part in the development, and in the last year, the process was sped up by 40 pupils aged 16 and 17 who worked around the clock to prepare the space vehicle as part of a scientific-engineering project they planned to present as part of their matriculation.
The youths were supervised by a team of space-engineers from the Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) and other hi-tech industries. They were led by Heller and Dr. Meir Ariel, director of the Herzliya Science Center.
The cube was constructed in a “clean room” prepared specially for this purpose at the center’s space lab.
After functional tests were performed two months ago, the “nano-satellite” was taken to IAI facilities for rigid examination to ensure that it would survive the difficult conditions of space.
After it passed the tests, the cube was put in a sealed suitcase and flown to the Russian base from which it will fly on the back of a missile.
The pupils said that to ensure the cube would not attract undue attention, it was put in a cardboard box with pictures of computer “mice” that they found in a recycling bin.
In addition, the pupils were trained in amateur radio communications with civilian satellites via a ground station, also built at the Herzliya center.
Kidron said that the minuscule weight of the satellite makes it cheaper for development and launching, compared to conventional ones that weigh hundreds of kilos, require much more energy and millions of dollars to dispatch them to space and operate them from there.
The satellite includes sophisticated equipment to operate the satellite when it is revolving around the Earth in places hidden from the sun.
Some of the parts that were made at the science center can today be bought directly via the Internet but cost tens of thousands of dollars a piece.
The project raises the scientific boundaries of teenagers to the highest-ever level and can also save lives, said 19-year-old Shenav Laizarovich, who participated in the project and is now in academic studies prior to her service in the Israel Defense Forces.
“The practical studies in high school entered our consciousness and made us enthusiastic about the world of space,” she added.
The Duchifat-1 is scheduled to be launched Thursday at 10:10 p.m. Israel time from the Yasny base in the Orenburg region of Russia. Heller and four of the pupils who led the project will be present at the site.
The cube will ride on a 34-meter-long cruise missile weighing 211 tons. It will revolve around the Earth every 90 minutes.
At any one time, it can retrieve signals calling for assistance over an area of 4,000 km wide, thus in a few hours, it can cover the entire surface of the Earth. Its energy will come from its initial launch, so that no fuel cell is needed. It is expected to function for 24 months and will remain on the same trajectory for 20 years.
The Israeli pupils will try to communicate with the satellite when it is 600 km. above the Earth and traveling at 27,000 kph.
The cube will be launched with much larger satellites from Denmark, Holland, Argentina, the US, Belgium, Brazil, Singapore and Ukraine The Herzliya center has already begun to build the Duchifat-2, which is also tiny but about twice as big as its older “brother.” It too is being created by high school pupils from around the country and due to be launched into space in about two years, together with 50 other miniature satellites from 27 countries that will conduct measurements and experiments in space.