Flying The First Open Source Satellite

The Libre Space Foundation is an organization dedicated to the development of libre space hardware. It was born from the SatNOGS project — the winners of the first Hackaday Prize — and now this foundation is in space. The Libre Space Foundation hitched a ride on the Orbital ATK launch yesterday, and right now their completely Open Source cube sat is on its way to the International Space Station.

The cube sat in question is UPSat, a 2U cubesat that is completely Open Source. Everything from the chassis to the firmware is completely Open, with all the source files hosted on GitHub.

UPSat is currently on its way to the International Space Station stowed in an Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo spacecraft. From here, the UPSat will be unloaded by members of the current ISS expedition and deployed with help from NanoRacks. Basically, the first Open Source satellite will be tossed overboard from the International Space Station. If you want to listen in on the data UPSat is beaming down, build a SatNOGS ground station and tune into 435.765 MHz. With a good antenna, you should be able to hear it when the ISS is in the sky, or a few times a week.

You can check out the launch of the Cygnus the UPSat is flying on in the video below. NASA also recorded a 360° video from the launch pad that unfortunately cuts out in the first few seconds after launch.

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After The Prize: A Libre Space Foundation

The Hackaday Prize is the greatest hardware build-off on the planet, and with that comes some spectacular prizes. For the inaugural Hackaday Prize in 2014, the top prize was $196,418. That’s a handsome sum, and with that, the right hardware, and enough time, anything is possible.

The winners of the first Hackaday Prize was the SatNOGs project. The SatNOGs project itself is very innovative and very clever; it’s a global network of satellite ground stations for amateur cubesats. This, in itself, is a huge deal. If you’re part of a student team, non-profit, or other organization that operates a cubesat, you only have access to that satellite a few minutes every day — whenever it’s in the sky, basically. SatNOGs is a project to put directional, tracking antennas everywhere on Earth, all connected to the Internet. This is a project that gives global ground station coverage to every amateur-built cubesat.

It’s been two years since SatNOGs won the Hackaday Prize, so how are they doing now? I caught up with some of the midwest reps of SatNOGs at this year’s Hamvention, and the project is doing very well. The steerable antenna mount designed by the SatNOGs project is fantastic, some of the Earth stations are seeing a lot of use, and the network is growing.

Two years is a long time, and since then SatNOGs has evolved into the Libre Space Foundation, a not-for-profit foundation with a mission to promote, advance and develop free and open source technologies and knowledge for space.

The premier project for the Libre Space Foundation is the UPSat, the first Open Source satellite ever launched. For the last two years, this is what the Libre Space Foundation has been working on, and soon this satellite will be orbiting the Earth. The satellite itself was recently delivered, and next month it will be launched to the International Space Station aboard a Cygnus spacecraft. After that, it will be deployed to low Earth orbit from Nanoracks’ deployment platform on the station.

This is truly an amazing project. SatNOGs brought a network of ground stations to amateur cubesats orbiting the Earth, and now the Libre Space Foundation will put an Open Source satellite into low Earth orbit. All the documentation is available on Github, and this is the best the open hardware movement has to offer. We’re proud to have SatNOGs and the Libre Space Foundation proving that Open Hardware can change the world, and we can only hope this year’s winner of the Hackaday Prize has such an impact.

Ground Stations are Just the Beginning: The SatNOGS Story

When you think of satellites, you may think of the Space Shuttle extending its robot arm with a huge piece of high-tech equipment waiting to pirouette into orbit. This misconception is similar to picturing huge mainframes when thinking about computers. The future (and arguably even the present) reality of satellites is smaller, cheaper, and more prolific. This future is also an “open” one if the Libre Space Foundation has anything to say about it.

This group that plans to make satellite communications available to anyone started out as a build at a hackerspace. One good idea, a shared set of skills and experience, and a little bit of time led them to accomplish amazing things. We are, of course, talking about the Grand Prize winners of the 2014 Hackaday Prize. The SatNOGS team built a working satellite ground station and laid the foundation for a data-sharing network to connect to it. But even this description can be a bit daunting, so come with me to learn what this is all about, and how it matters to you.

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