Here’s an interesting thought: it’s possible to build a cubesat for perhaps ten thousand dollars, and hitch a ride on a launch for free thanks to a NASA outreach program. Tracking that satellite along its entire orbit would require dozens of ground stations, all equipped with antennas, USB TV tuners, and a connection to the Internet. It’s actually more expensive to build and launch a cubesat than it costs to build a network of ground stations to get reasonably real-time telemetry from a cubesat. The future is awesome and weird, it seems.
This is the observation the guys behind SatNOGS have made. They’re developing a platform for a completely open source ground station network, with the idea being people an institutions along every longitude and latitude would build a simple satellite tracking antenna mount, connect it to the Internet, and become part of an open source Near Space Network, capable of receiving telemetry from any one of the small cubesats whizzing around in low earth orbit.
Despite being what is probably one of the most ambitious and far-reaching projects in open source hardware, the design of the system is relatively simple: the hardware is a 3D printed alt-az mount, capable of pointing a pair of antennas anywhere in the sky. The stepper motor driver board is based on the Arduino, and the computer running each antenna node is powered by a BeagleBone Black or a WR703N router. The antenna receiver is, of course, an RTL-SDR dongle, capable of listening to all the common cubesat bands. Even the software is derived from open source projects. Tracking a satellite across the sky can be calculated with GPredict, and the team is working on an observation scheduling and management system that combines multiple ground stations for coverage across the globe.
It’s a great idea, crowdsourcing satellite tracking from people around the globe, and something that could be used by hundreds of institutions lucky enough to launch a small cube of electronics into orbit.
The project featured in this post is an entry in The Hackaday Prize. Build something awesome and win a trip to space or hundreds of other prizes.
Over one hundred CubeSats have been launched by hundreds of organizations and universities from around the globe. These have proven very useful in technology demonstration, Earth imaging, and other applications. There is, however, one large downside to the CubeSat platform. Even though it is designed to hitch a ride on launches of larger satellites, they’re still very expensive to develop and launch – somewhere between $60,000 and $125,000.
PocketQubes are a new design of satellite that bring the cost of personal satellites down to what Universities and amateur radio enthusiasts can actually afford. Instead of spending $125k on a 10cm cube CubeSat, the PocketQube, a 5cm cube, can be launched to a 700 km orbit for about $20,000.
Already, four PocketQubes are scheduled for launch in November to a 700km solar synchronous orbit, including $50SAT, a small radio transceiver put together by some ham guys, and The WREN a very impressive PocketQube with 3-axis reaction wheels and plasma thrusters.
Right now, the PocketQube kickstarter is only for aluminum structures that will become the skeleton of a small, 5cm cube satellite. There’s also the PocketQube Shop that provides a little more background on the project.
We’ve seen kicksats before, small pocketable single board satellites designed to orbit Earth. At this year’s Maker Faire, the team behind these kicksats has a new plan: using them to determine the orbits of earth-passing asteroids and hopefully not giving us any forewarning of our imminent extinction.
Instead of simply orbiting Earth, the new plan for these kicksats is to deploy them into the path of an oncoming asteroid such as Apophis so the radio transmissions from each satellite can pinpoint where exactly the asteroid is, something Earthbound optical and radio telescopes struggle with.
Despite the small size, the hardware on each kicksat is pretty impressive; each mini satellite has a solar cell on each side, a low-power MSP430 microcontroller with a radio module, and a few sensors. The system is designed so anyone can pick up the telemetry from these satellites with a small Yagi antenna and an RTL SDR TV tuner dongle.
An impressive bit of kit, but if holding a satellite or asteroid in your hand is more your thing, the same team behind the kicksat put up a whole bunch of 3D models of asteroids and space probes. They’re actually quite impressive when they’re printed out.
CubeSats are nothing new – hundreds have been launched into Earth orbit by schools and universities over the past decade. Like anything cool, an Arduino eventually gets thrown into the mix. That’s what the folks behind ArduSat are doing: they’re launching an Arduino-laden satellite into orbit with a bunch of sensors to enable anyone to become a citizen space scientist.
On board the ArduSat is a suite of sensors including a spectrometer, Geiger counter, IR light sensor, electromagnetic wave sensor, a temperature sensor, gyroscope, accelerometer, magnetometer, GPS unit, CO2 sensor, and of course a few cameras. The rewards for this Kickstarter are fairly interesting: backers who pledge $500 are able to buy a week’s worth of time using the ArduSat sensors for your own personal experiment.
As for how this Arduino-powered satellite is getting a ride up to Low Earth Orbit, the team plans to send an application into NASA for the CubeSat Launch Initiative ride-along program. If NASA selects the ArduSat, it’ll get a ride into space along with other CubeSats on a larger commercial launch. If the ArduSat isn’t selected by NASA, the team behind this satellite has secured funding to piggyback on a commercial launch.
Tip ‘o the hat to [HackTheGibson] for sending this in.
There’s a new Kickstarter campaign that promises to launch a personalized satellite into orbit for 300 bones.
The KickSat project is headed by [Zac Manchester], [Mason Peck], [Justin Atchison] and a few more contributors hailing from Cornell University. Their goal is to launch a CubeSat filled with hundreds of postage stamp-sized satellites and release these ‘Sprites’ into low Earth orbit.
The Sprite concept has been in development for a while now and has been featured on IEEE Spectrum. The tiny satellites are simple PCBs with a microcontroller and a radio powered by solar cells and capacitors. The first version of the Sprite is designed to beam down a few bytes of data – just a unique identifier and a Kickstarter backer’s name. Future versions will undoubtedly include more advanced sensors such as cameras, thermometers, and very tiny particle detectors.
The KickSat team will use the funding from the Kickstarter campaign to test and integrate the systems. The team hopes to hitch a ride on one of NASAs many CubeSat launches, but if they get funding from 400 people, they’ll get to fly on a commercial launch by early 2013.
We were wondering about the amazing amount of space junk this KickSat/Sprite build will produce, but the team says not to worry: The Sprites fly in a pretty low orbit and will reenter the atmosphere a few weeks after being deployed. Not bad, considering Sputnik orbited for only 3 months.
Since 2007, [Adam Kemp] has been leading a team of students from Thomas Jefferson High School, guiding them through the process of designing and building a small satellite that NASA selected for launch early next year.
The CubeSat, officially named TJ³Sat, uses commercial, off-the-shelf components for nearly all its systems. The team ran into a problem interfacing the FM430 Flight Module (PDF warning), so [Adam] designed an Arduino-based replacement. Based on an ATMEGA328, the entire board is a drop-in replacement for the FM430 Flight Module. On July 1st, the TJ³Sat will begin testing at Orbital Sciences Corp. to make sure the entire satellite is up to snuff.
The TJ³Sat’s payload will take data from the ground controllers and using a TextSpeak module convert serial data into spoken voice. This audio will then be transmitted over amateur radio frequencies and will be picked up by hams all over the world. We’d like to wish the students at Thomas Jefferson High a hearty congratulations for being the first High School to build a satellite and hope the testing and launch go as planned.