When a space suit has outlived its astronaut, or at least its usefulness to an astronaut, what happens to it? For one lucky Orlan Space suit, the answer was becoming a satellite: SuitSat. The idea was to create an ephemeral, microsatellite housed in an decommissioned space suit. On the ground, folks could turn their FM radios to 145.9 and listen to the satellite’s transmissions which included greetings in varying languages and telemetry data. SuitSat, also called RadioSkaf by the cosmonauts at ARISS who came up with the idea, was launched into orbit in 2006. The batteries lasted for a couple of orbits, and the suit remained running laps around the stratosphere for months until it re-entered the atmosphere over the ocean.
There is a newer microsatellite sitting aboard the ISS as I type this, but this one is not housed in a space suit, which may be for the best. It’s a little disconcerting to see what looks like a human just floating helplessly in space. Reusing the space suit is also thrifty and slightly humorous. Still, the new SuitSat (which isn’t really a SuitSat) lacks the personality of it’s predecessor– but it just may last long enough to hear its transmissions on the ground. I’m not sure where you go and find an FM radio that will tune above 107.9, but when the newest microsatellite launches I’m going to find one.