PicSat had been sent into orbit to observe exoplanets, but had quickly shut down. It is thanks to a ham radio frequency that the signals it was sending were spotted…

In 2018, a team of astronomers from the Laboratoire d’études spatiales et d’instrumentation en astrophysique (LESIA) at the Paris Observatory sent a nano-satellite, PicSat, into space. Its mission was to send back to Earth valuable information on the exoplanets orbiting the star Beta Pictoris. However, after four years of work and a smooth launch, nearly two months after its launch, the satellite fell silent from one minute to the next… for more than four and a half years. It did not return to life until June 2022, when the mission had been abandoned for years.

“During its two months of operation, it was a discovery for the whole team, we started from nothing. We managed to take it in hand, to control it, to stabilize it, to test the different systems and after two months, on March 20, it became silent. We tried everything to get in touch with him. It was quite sad, after four and a half years of work” says Sylvestre Lacour, astrophysicist at the Paris Observatory.

The satellite was followed by observatories that deal with all space debris, “we knew it was intact, but it stopped giving us news.” In France, a law prohibits the sending of satellites without means of deorbiting when it is no longer useful. “According to this law, the satellite must leave its orbit within 25 years. On the small nanosatellite style satellites, in low orbit, they are small enough that with air friction, after ten years, they disintegrate in the atmosphere.” After PicSat’s science mission failed, the team of astronomers was counting on the fact that it would disintegrate within ten years.