Sending Open-Source Satellites to Space

An anonymous reader tipped us about two Argentinian satellites (satellite one, satellite two) that were sent in 2013 to space. What is interesting about them? They are both based on commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) components, and the team released the framework & flight computer software for their main platform (named cubesat, GitHub link). Gunter’s space page not only impresses us by showing the quantity of small/amateur satellites sent each month to space, but also lets us know that the hardware source files for CudeBug 1/2 are meant to be released. In the meantime we can only gather that they’re using a Texas Instruments TMS570 running FreeRTOS. Nevertheless, the two different web pages (in spanish and english) offer us a very interesting glimpse of what it takes to send an electronic project to space and how it later behaves.

You may also be interested in checking out ArduSat, a successful kickstarter campaign aimed at sending Arduino experiments in space.

ISEE-3 Dream Team Needs Your Help

ISEE-3 Moon flyby

The mission to save ISEE-3 has is underway. The ISEE-3 Reboot Project has posted a crowdfunding campaign on Rockethub. When we first covered the ISEE-3 story no one had heard from it since 2008. Since then AMSAT-DL, an amateur radio group in Germany has received signals from the probe.

The ISEE-3 Reboot Project is being managed by [Dennis Wingo] and [Keith Cowing], the same two men who spearheaded the effort to recover NASA’s Lunar Orbiter images from old magnetic tapes. They did most of their work using restored 1960’s equipment in a vacant McDonald’s.

The goal of the ISEE Reboot Project is to return ISEE-3 to its original Earth/Sun Lagrange point L1 orbit. Once safely back in orbit, it will be used for STEM education, amateur radio solar predictions, and for science about the sun. In [Dennis Wingo’s] own words

If we can do this, we will have an open source, publicly accessible satellite data stream of the first open source satellite above Low Earth Orbit.

[Wingo] and [Cowing] aren’t alone in this effort; they are working with a venerable dream team. In addition to getting the nod from NASA, the team also has the help of [Dr. Robert Farquhar], the orbital dynamics guru who originally designed ISEE-3’s comet intercept orbit . [Farquhar] has an extremely personal reason to participate in this project. In 1982 he “borrowed” the satellite to go comet hunting. Once that mission was complete, he promised to give ISEE-3 back. [Dr. Farquhar] and his team designed the maneuvers required to bring ISEE-3 back to L1 orbit back in the 1980’s. This includes a breathtaking moon flyby at an altitude of less than 50 km. Seriously, we want to see this guy’s KSP missions.

Communicating with the ISEE-3 is going to take some serious power and antenna gain. The project has this in the form of a 21 meter dish at Moorehead State University in Kentucky, USA, and the Arecibo Observatory. Arecibo should be well-known to our readers by now. Moorehead and Arecibo have both received signals from ISEE-3. The reboot project team is also working directly with the AMSAT-DL team in Germany.

If this effort seems a bit rushed, that’s because time is very short. To implement [Dr. Farquhar’s] plan, ISEE-3 must fire its thrusters by late June 2014. In just two months the team needs to create software to implement ISEE-3’s communications protocols, obtain and install transmitters at Moorehead and Aricibo, and send some basic commands to the craft. Only then can they begin to ascertain ISEE-3’s overall health in preparation for a thruster burn.

If  the ISEE-3 Reboot Project succeeds, we’ll have an accessible satellite well outside of low Earth orbit. If it fails, Issac Newton will remain at the helm. ISEE-3 will fly right past Earth, not to be seen again until August 2029.

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The Hackaday Prize: You Build Open Hardware, We Send You to Space


For weeks we’ve been teasing you that something BIG was coming. This is it. Six months from now one hardware hacker will claim The Hackaday Prize and in doing so, secure the grand prize of a trip into space.

You have the skills, the technology, and the tenacity to win this. Even if you don’t take the top spot there’s loot in it for more than one winner. To further entice you, there are eyebrow-raising prizes for all five of the top finishers, and hundreds of other rewards for those that build something impressive. You can win this… you just need to take the leap and give it your all.

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Call for Hams and Hackers: Welcome ICE/ISEE-3 Home

ISEE-3, one of America’s most dedicated space exploration vessels is on its way home. Unfortunately, when it gets here, no one will be talking to it. NASA decommissioned the equipment needed to communicate with the satellite nearly 15 years ago. [Emily Lakdawalla] at the planetary society has been following the long traveled probe for years. Her recent article on the topic includes the news that NASA essentially gave up the battle before it even started.

Originally named International Sun/Earth Explorer 3 (ISEE-3), the spacecraft was launched atop a Delta rocket on August 12, 1978. Its mission was to study interaction between the Earth’s magnetic field and solar wind. As part of this mission ISEE-3 became the first spacecraft to enter halo orbit. It did this by positioning itself at Lagrangian point L1, directly between the sun and the Earth. In 1982, scientists on earth were preparing for the 1986 flyby of Halley’s Comet. ISEE-3 was repurposed as a comet hunter, and renamed International Cometary Explorer (ICE). The craft flew back to Earth and entered lunar orbit, coming within 120km of the moon’s surface. It used this momentum to achieve a heliocentric orbit, on track for two comet encounters. ICE/ISEE-3 encountered Comet Giacobini-Zinner on September 11, 1985, collecting data and becoming the first spacecraft to fly through a comet’s plasma tail. While not considered part of the Halley Armada, ICE/ISEE-3 took measurements as it passed within 28 million km of Comet Halley’s nucleus. Since then, ICE/ISEE-3 has continued on its 355 day heliocentric orbit. It studied coronal mass ejections in the early 90’s, before being shut down in May of 1997. Follow us past the break to learn ICE/ISEE-3’s fate.

Continue reading “Call for Hams and Hackers: Welcome ICE/ISEE-3 Home”

Further Teardown of the Saturn V Flight Computer

Depotting LVDC Components

[Fran] has been working on tearing down and reverse engineering the Saturn V Launch Vehicle Digital Computer (LVDC). In her finale, she’s succeeded in depotting the legacy components while keeping them intact.

She accomplished this by carefully removing the silicone compound using a gum brush. This was a laborious process, but it allowed her to see the device’s innards. With this knowledge, she could recreate the logic modules on a breadboard.

[Fran]’s work on the LVDC has been very interesting. It began with a look at the PCB, followed by an x-ray analysis. Next up was a three part series of the teardown. With each part is a detailed video on the progress.

While this is the end of [Fran]’s work on the project, she will be handing off the LVDC hardware to another engineer to continue the analysis. We’re looking forward to seeing what comes out of this continued research.

Building a rocket to launch your project into space

At Hackaday, we’re familiar with projects that say they’re exploring space. Most of the time, these are high altitude balloons that ascend up to 100,000 feet. Sure, this is very, very high, but it’s only about 1/3rd of the way to lower limit of what can be called space at 100 km or 62 miles. Now, we’re seeing the first steps towards embedding Arduinos, cameras, and other goodies into the celestial spheres with the NE-1 Rocket, a project by [Jonathan McCabe] in Madison, Wisconsin.

The goal of the NE-1 rocket is to launch a 5kg payload into a suborbital trajectory to a height of 120 kilometers. From there, the payload – be it an electronic, biological, or simple imaging experiment – will experience a few minutes of weightlessness before falling back to Earth under a parachute.

Getting into space without the help of a government space agency has been done a few times before, mostly with solid-fuel rockets. [Jonathan]’s system uses a liquid-fueled engine, fed with nitrous oxide as the oxidizer and a secret self-pressurizing liquid fuel. These are fed into an engine that uses a ‘cold wall vortex’ to cool the engine instead circulating fuel around the combustion chamber as in traditional engines.

[Jonathan] has already done a few static tests with a half-scale engine, and he already has a lot of the very hard-to-source components in his lab. It’s a promising project. It falls right in line with the ‘Hackaday Space Program’ idea we’ve been kicking around, and we’d be more than happy to see this project get off the ground