Send An Arduino To The Moon For $300


We’ve seen Kickstarter campaigns to put a single satellite into space and one to launch your own personalized postage-stamp sized satellite into low Earth orbit. This time, though, you can break the bonds of Earth and send your own Arduino compatible satellite on a collision course with the moon. The project is called Pocket Spacecraft, and exactly as its name implies, it allows you to send a small, flat, 8 cm diameter spacecraft to the surface of the moon.

The pocket spacecraft are made of metallized kapton, a very thin membrane stretched inside a loop of wire. On board this paper-thin spacecraft are a pair of solar cells and a bare die MSP430 microcontroller connected to a suite of sensors. Before launch, you can program your tiny space probe with commands to relay data back to Earth, either useful scientific data or a simple tweet.

These pocket spacecraft will be launched from a cubesat – a highly successful line of amateur spacecraft that are usually launched by hitching a ride with larger commercial satellites. To get from low Earth orbit to the moon is much harder than just hitchhiking, so the cubesat mothership comes equipped with either a solar sail or its own engine that electrolysed water into hydrogen and oxygen, the perfect rocket fuel.

Pocket Spacecraft is an amazingly impressive feat; there are literally dozens of amateur-built spacecraft orbiting above our heads right now, but so far none have ventured more than a few hundred miles away from their home planet. Getting to the moon with an amateur spacecraft is an amazing accomplishment, and definitely worthy of the $300 price tag.

67 thoughts on “Send An Arduino To The Moon For $300

  1. The editors here think all microcontrollers are arduinos. I’m starting to wonder if they don’t get kickbacks for trying to get “microcontroller” in the vernacular replaced with “arduino”. you say it enough times and the newbs will start saying it and presto… free ads for the makers of the arduino. Or since these guys aren’t smart enough to write their own code, they are trying to attract enough smart folks over to the libraries where they can just cut and paste at will. You know, instead of just learning some C or something on their own.

    1. One, the term Arduino here is refering to the IDE. Second, using libraries doesn’t mean your not smart enough to write code, it means your smart enough to not re-write it. That’s like saying everyone who makes a website should code up there own OS and web server to do it with, or else they are dumb.

      1. Or maybe if you write your own code, and understand what it does with your own brain, you’ll be smart enough to see all the terrible code others have written in the libraries and avoid a lot of problems. And maybe you’ll also be smart enough to learn the limitations and gotchas of the Arduinos and steer to better, more powerful microcontrollers that deserve more attention than the silly kiddie toy with the lame name. Or at least go in and help clean up the coding mistakes in the libraries.

        Also, When I studied programming, the instructors were ok with copying code, as long as it was well written, for your own sanity later on. But we also turned off all of the IDE helpers if not just used a bare bones text editor with no help at all. It makes you think about things, it makes you face problems head on so you learn very early that there is a correct way of coding, because some poor soul, including yourself, may someday revisit that old code and need to understand what it does and how it works. Do you learn to drive better from the passenger seat or from behind the wheel?

        I’ve seen some neat projects running off of arduinos, then i think to myself how much money they wasted in all the extra crap that comes on the board they dont need, how much better it would perform with a faster clock, how much space they could have saved, how much overhead they could have saved without some lame bloatloader etc etc etc… It’s a cute kids toy for prototyping on a time crunch, but its also underkill and overkill all at the same time. It could just be an AVR on a piece of protoboard and do the same thing, It could be a PIC running 3 times faster, it could be a ARM or an FPGA. Something that could apply to the real world, an added skill that could get you a fatter paycheck, or it could just remain a kids toy with borrowed code you don’t undertstand with an over priced shield that does less than you could do if you applied yourself and broke out the soldering iron.
        Arduinos just represent crutches and lazzyness to me ant the same time it represents people that waste precious moments of their life laying out schematics and having whole boards fabbed to make a clone just so they can poison it with a crappy bloatloader. It just doesn’t make sense to me.

        But to each his own I guess. I just enjoy doing things myself and the satisfaction of problem solving without having my hand held. I know i don’t even need a free IDE to code, just a plain jane text editor. I know I don’t need some silly half baked board to make a blinky light. It’s a good feeling.

        1. it may mean lazyness to you, but to others it means they can concentrate on the part of the process that they enjoy, instead of adhering to some highly arbitrary position of what is “superior” work.

          it is all well and good trying to engineer everything to the micrometer,
          but in the end your table legs probably wont work all that different from the 20 dollar alternative made from wood and liberal applications of a standard measuring tape and a handsaw.

          of course proper practice makes everything easier down the road, but one also has to ask when and what is down that road to begin with.

        2. “Do you learn to drive better from the passenger seat or from behind the wheel?”

          Did you learn to drive better by building your own car, (Frame, engine, body panels, steering system…? Did manufacturing your own tires help you learn how to drive?

          What, you didn’t do these things? How on earth can you start a vehicle, much less actually drive it.

          So to answer your question, yes I learned how to drive by watching from the passenger seat. I refined those skills behind the wheel. However, building my own sand rail, while invaluable, did not help my driving skills. It did, however, help me with a number of other skills.

          I submit you learn more by reading good code than you do by trying to re-invent what everyone else has done, or by jumping in to the deep end of the programming pool without the proper foundation.

        3. For a further example of why your argument is invalid, use it in the context of building your own house. Plenty of people can build a house, but following your argument, nobody should feel accomplished if they do it with regular saws and equipment, because, following your argument, it is well known that anything made by other people might have flaws in it. If a saw of is bought or made by someone that isn’t the builder of the house, it is probably unreliable because, following your argument, everyone else is a complete idiot. If the builder does use external saws or tools, they learned nothing while building the house because they are children and require their hand to be held. Because people in the stone age were forced to build their own house, everyone who uses modern tools to do it now is obviously too childish for your presence.

          Truthfully, it’s not wrong to prepare for others to make mistakes, but it is wrong to assume that everything made by anyone else is flawed and you should therefore do everything yourself. Your attempt at superseding others has only led to you showing your true lack of comprehension of the topic at hand, and shows how ungrateful you are for the work and progress of others.

          P.S. Your (somewhat) disguised trollish name wasn’t lost on me.

        4. I have a computer science background and work as a developer. I’m also interested in hardware hacks, but haven’t come up with many great projects. Other people out there may have much better ideas but don’t want to spend the years it takes to become good programmers, really understand the hardware, write their own libraries, etc. Things like Arduino, code libraries, and components mounted on a board (with the needed supporting hardware included) from places like Sparkfun are not the most economical way to do something, but they allow it to get done quickly, and by people who might not bother if they weren’t available. Later, if they want to dig into the nitty gritty, they can still do that – using the Arduino on a successful project might actually inspire them to do that. Different strokes for different folks.

    2. From the kickstarter page: “You can develop custom software for your spacecraft using a standard Arduino development environment…” Right above that is a picture of what looks like the Arduino development environment even!!

      My guess is that they are using Energia.

      Does that make it an Arduino? I suppose not but close enough not dump on them too hard for calling it one IMHO.

  2. Just to be clear, you need to pledge at least $600 to be able to program the chip, and $1,200 before you can customize the hardware loadout. For $300 you just get to put a picture on it.

    Still the cheapest way to get a programmable device into space, though they are a bit vague as to what realistic work could be done with them.

      1. GBP 199 gets you two spacecraft (one Earth Scout and one Lunar Scout) each with your custom picture and transmitting a custom message. You can’t upload your own software on this version but it will be running technology demo or science experiment software for the project as a whole.

        1. Thanks for pointing that out! I clearly mis-read the “reward”‘ box. And I see it is not so pricy -$79 million is a lot more, and I bet there is more space junk involved too!

  3. If I’m going to send something to the moon its going to be something of my own design not some canned design that this company is going to sell me (Especially not an arduino). Also I don’t think they make a radiation hardened Atmel chip. A cube sat in low earth orbit gets only a tiny fraction of what it would get going through the Van Allen Belt or being on the moon because its protected by the magneto sphere.

    1. From what they are describing it looks like they are going to crash on the moon. After reading their kickstarter page my impression of this whole project is that in theory it might work but realistically there is a 99.999% chance of failure.

          1. If the negligible atmospheric drag from the moons “atmosphere” is excluded, this arduino pancakes will crash with at least 2.4 km/s onto the moons surface. I can prove with less than 290k£ that none of these things will work afterwards.

            And if this silly project gets funded, I will think of an even sillier project to make myself some big money with no useful results

          2. The crashing on the moon is the responsible disposal of the spacecraft after they have finished their mission on orbit and is how most spacecraft sent to the moon end of life. The total mass of the mission is a tiny fraction of the other missions sent to the moon and disposed of in this way. The Lunar Scouts perform their mission in low lunar orbit until they crash/deorbit. The Earth Scouts should function all the way to the ground and after. The launch will not be to LEO (low earth orbit) unless the Earth Scouts and Lunar Scouts have to fly on separate launches due to lack of GTO launch availability in which case the Earth Scouts would go to a sub ISS LEO orbit to avoid debris issues and the CubeSat and Lunar Scouts would fly on an earth escape launch. The preferred launch is to GTO (geosynchronous transfer orbit) so we can demonstrate everything in a single mission. The propulsion system will be able to impart sufficient deltaV to do a weak stability transfer to low lunar orbit from where it starts.

  4. Pedantry Alert: some amateur craft have indeed ventured more than a few hundred miles. AO-40 was in a highly eliptical orbit that toppoed out above 59000 km. If I wanted to be a real pain in the butt, I’d say something about Spirit and Opportunity using a 430-ish MHz uplink to MRO, smack in the middle of the 70cm band, but I’m not silly enough to claim that’s an amateur craft in any sense of the world (and strictly speaking, they’re using the federal allocation at 400-450, which just happens to coincide with the amateur allocations).

    I thought I’d feel better after pointing out such an obscure tidbit, but it turns out to have had no effect at all.

  5. I couldn’t tell from the site, but I would love to know what hardware goodies you can get for the 100 credits. Unless I missed it, it currently seems reliant on the number of backers they find, and some examples of possible things were being offered.

    This should be part of a redbull challenge of something, or possibly a hackaday fleet option.

    Personally I think I would like to be able to get them to fab a module, with the option of keeping it (and testing it) in addition to sending one off to probably destruction.

    Now, if only if I could think of a micro controller project that would benefit from falling from the atmosphere from a great height or being stuck (probably knowing my luck in a deep dark crater) on the moon.

    1. Ah – the replica thin-film scout awards refer to the actual device (not not sure if it is a working replica…), which start at the £49 range, and go up on the level of personalisation, but seem to stop short of full hardware customisation. – a fully personalised hardware option with out the space flight would be interesting

      They have a video as well now:

  6. “…hydrogen and oxygen, the perfect rocket fuel.”

    Couple things.
    1. Hydrogen is the fuel
    2. The Hydrogen Oxygen propellant combination is not perfect. There are better performing combinations in terms of propellant density, and delivered specific impulse.

  7. Last time I checked, it costs several orders of magnitude to get something into LEO of similar size. There is literally no way this will work. This is actually more idiotic than the space elevator kickstarter.

    1. They’re using a cubesat. Those can usually be launched for $40-50k per unit. Based on the render, they’re probably planning to use a 3u cubesat at a cost of ~150k to launch.

  8. I contacted the KS people and asked if it was possible to have a “scout” send out a message every day: The number of days it was on the moon, along with a personal message. I got this reply: “Your Scout will only function when it is in orbit around the Earth or Moon (we will be crash landing on the moon and it almost certainly won’t survive the crash) …”
    So once the scout is on the moons surface, it’s just “there”. Anyway, I’m still considering it. =)

  9. I can’t believe there are so many negative comments here! There are enough haters with no ambition or imagination in the world.
    What’s that old saying about people telling you can’t do something just distracting you while you’re actually doing it?
    If you want to design, build and launch your own craft, then go ahead, but this is a great chance for space exploration on a low-scale, publicly accessible, affordable level.
    I think this is a great idea, similar to putting a new ‘toy’ in the hands of a child who comes up with a new use you never thought of.

    One question I have, however – what if the toast lands butter-side-down….?

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