The strangest satellite ever to orbit Earth has left the International Space Station. The U.S. and Russian crewmen deployed it during a spacewalk they conducted to perform maintenance tasks on the outpost. The unusual satellite looks like a cosmonaut lost in the void.
A Russian spacesuit is floating in space after cosmonaut Valery Tokarev dumped it overboard at the beginning of his six-hour work outing with U.S. station commander Bill McArthur.
The spacesuit satellite is nicknamed Radio Sputnik in Russian or SuitSat in English. It was conceived by Russian space officials as a novel way of discarding a spacewalk outfit that has reached the end of its useful life. It contains gear allowing it to communicate with amateur radio operators around the world and provide scientific exercises for students. "Basically SuitSat is an old Russian spacesuit that has been fitted with a ham radio and will remain in orbit for several days," he said.
The NASA official helping coordinate the spacewalk, Kwatsi Alibaruho, says the spacesuit will send computer generated voice messages in six languages before its batteries run out and it burns up during re-entry into the atmosphere. "Given the nature of the suit, the fabrics that it is made out of, obviously no part of the suit is expected to survive re-entry, so it's a safe re-entry. We expect the ham radio operators on the ground to be able to receive the suit signal for quite a few days," he said.
NASA says the orbiting spacesuit's greetings contain special code words in English, Russian, French, Spanish, German, and Japanese for students at schools taking part in the project. The children can receive awards for deciphering the words. The U.S. space agency is encouraging teachers make connections through local ham radio clubs.
The suit will also transmit data about its telemetry, battery power, and temperature so students can track its condition and location on NASA's internet site.
Spacewalk planner Anna Jarvis says it might tumble and roll, giving the appearance of an astronaut who has become untethered and disoriented. "The suit will be unpressurized, but it will be fully outfitted with gloves and helmet. The crew has stuffed the suit with excess clothing so it will look like a manned suit. It's very difficult to control what sort of tumble rate, so it is highly likely that we will see some sort of rotation on it," she said.
After deploying the spacesuit, station crewmembers McArthur and Tokarev went to work on several chores, including retrieving a Russian experiment analyzing microorganisms in space, photographing the exterior condition of a Russian module, and protecting a power and data cable connected to a small rail car that moves the station's construction crane.