First Hungarian Space Probe in Orbit
Scientists of the Institute of Particle and Nuclear Physics at HAS' Wigner Research Centre for Physics participated in the test-run of Masat-1, the very first space probe manufactured wholly in Hungary. The space probe was lifted into orbit by a Vega rocket launched from the European Space Agency's centre in Kourou, French Guiana on February 13, 2012.
"Scientists and engineers of the Institute of Particle and Nuclear Physics of HAS' Wigner Research Centre for Physics ran several tests as part of the official qualification of Masat-1 during the summer of 2010", said developing engineer Pál Vizi. During these tests, scientists created a vacuum in the institute's climate chamber, and then varied the temperature within the chamber in a range of -60 and +60 degrees centigrade. "Researchers were constantly monitoring several indicators of the operation of the satellite at these extreme conditions", Pál Vizi said, adding that the final consensus of the engineers of the institute was that the qualification unit had passed all tests with flying colours. Based on the results backed up by so-called shaking tests, the researchers stated that Masat-1 was ready to be handed over to the institutes and corporations responsible for the launch. According to the research-engineer, the climate chamber tests were essential in order to determine whether the probe would be able to operate without faults in the extreme environment of outer space. "Masat-1 revolves around the planet in a so-called polar orbit which is in the Earth's shadow for 30 to 40% of the time. When in sunlight, the interior of the satellite warms up to 28-30 centigrade, but the probe must still remain operational at a much lower temperature within the Earth's shadow", Pál Vizi said.
Masat-1 has been wholly conceived and constructed in Hungary. Its name includes the first two letters (Ma) of Magyarország (Hungary). The space probe belongs to the family of so-called CubeSats, i.e. very small, cube-shaped satellites. In spite of its dimensions of only 10x10x10 centimetres, all major functions of standard satellites could be implemented in Masat-1, say the developers. Execution, regulation and data gathering are all done by onboard microcomputers.
The first Hungarian satellite was a joint project of students, PhD students and professors of the Budapest University of Technology and Economics and several corporate sponsors. The probe was developed at the University within the educational and demonstrational CubeSat program of ESA.The space probe records data of its own conditions and those of its environment and transfers them to a designated receiving station on Earth. According to its constructors, Masat-1 will be in operation for at least three weeks, but may retain its functionality for years to come.