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Miniature Israeli satellites to track down people in distress

JERUSALEM, Jan. 26 — Researchers at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology say they are developing satellites that would be capable of identifying people in distress, Israeli daily Ma'ariv reported Wednesday.

The project aims to launch three miniature satellites weighing six kilograms each to orbit earth at an altitude of 600 km for one year, according to the report.

Once in orbit, the satellites would pinpoint people showing signs of distress and conduct surveillance of birds' migratory patterns throughout the globe, among other missions.

Heading the project is Prof. Pini Gurfil of Technion's Faculty of Aerospace Engineering and the Asher Institute of Space Research, who received a 2.1-million-U.S. dollar grant from the European Research Council last June to develop a discipline called "disaggregated spacecraft architectures" (DSA), according to a press release issued by the American Technion Society.

DSA is a method for launching satellites in separate components. After reaching their designated altitude, these unattached components would cluster together and communicate wirelessly to form a complete satellite. The researchers' ultimate goal is to develop technology that will enable flight in a DSA formation, which would make it possible to overcome unexpected problems, such as damage incurred from space debris that could cause a traditional satellite to cease functioning.

"This is the first time ever that an attempt will be made to launch three satellites which will fly together in a unified formation," Gurfil told Ma'ariv.

"A launching of this kind has not been possible until now due to the size and weight of the satellites and other problems," he said.

As part of the experiment, the satellites will be equipped with a specially-designed propulsion system that will assist in maintaining the flight formation for an extended period of time. Once in space, the satellites will attempt to receive signals from earth and calculate their origin, according to Wednesday's report.

The project will be officially inaugurated next week at the 7th annual Ilan Ramon Space Conference near Tel Aviv, which will be attended by representatives of international space agencies and leading space experts. Technion researchers have set 2015 as the deadline for a launch.

Gurfil said that if successful, the experiment would be significant to the development of miniature satellites and technologies that seek to miniaturize electronic components for civilian applications. (PNA/Xinhua)

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