Kickstart your way to an experiment on a satellite!

By Phil Plait | June 15, 2012 11:30 am

This is very cool: Discover Magazine is contributing to a project to help the public create and run an experiment that will actually get launched into space aboard a small cubesat satellite!

This is a real thing. A small group of aerospace experts is running a KickStarter campaign to fund this satellite. By contributing to the KickStarter you can do anything from simply supporting them to actually being able to build and run your own experiment on the satellite once it’s up. Here’s a video explaining the basics:

[You may need to refresh this page to get the video to load.]

As I write this they’ve already had over $3000 pledged to their goal of $35k, and it’s only been up a few hours. Pretty nice. [UPDATE: The project reached its goal on June 21, after only a few days! Wow. However, you can and should still fund it; if you do you can enter Discover Magazine’s contest.]

Discover Magazine’s involvement with this has been to issue the Discover Space Challenge: you can submit your own idea for an experiment, game, or application to run on the ArduSat. The most innovative one will win free Team Development Kit worth $1500, and it will fly with the ArduSat into space! Details are on the KickStarter page.

The satellite itself is very small: just 10 cm (4 inches) on a side, and weighs only about a kilogram. But it will pack as many as 25 sensors on board, including three detectors, a spectrometer, a magnetometer, and even a Geiger counter. Plus, of course, the experiment from whomever wins the Space Challenge.

The project as a whole is being run by NanoSatisfi, which is a company working on democratizing space access by allowing people to put experiments up there for cheap. Other partners in this endeavor are SciStarter (to promote it in the community), Science Cheerleader (run by my pal Darlene Cavalier), MySpectral (developing a sensor for the ArduSat), and DIYSandbox (working on the electronics).

There’s a lot more info in the FAQ at the bottom of the KickStarter page. I’ll admit I’m fairly amazed by all this. We live in a time when nearly anyone can design and fly an experiment in space. Incredible!

So think about what sort of experiment you’d like to see on a satellite… and submit it. You could actually and for real get it into space.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, contest, Cool stuff, Space

Comments (20)

Links to this Post

  1. Projects in the News | Alles Over Crowd Funding | June 26, 2012
  1. Will

    Linked this to the team at University of Southampton’s Physics Society. We sent our first balloon up this week:
    http://imgur.com/XTqow

  2. MadScientist

    Hmm … interesting drawing – is that an “artist’s impression” or did someone actually draw it up like that? 25 sensors, 10cm per side, itty bitty solar panels. The solar panels will essentially be useless except for powering micropower circuits – need a large battery. Are the circuits designed to operate in reduced pressures? What’s the thermal management plan, how is it pointed …

    I wonder if I should set up a KickStarter project for … volcanic monitoring instrumentation?

  3. I don’t know, MadScientist, solar panels on a cube satellite worked for Munin (see link on my name) and it had several science instruments. I’m sure someone has thought about the electrical requirements, that’s usually a major driver of satellite design.

  4. John Kennell

    Word Search… I need a word that describes the action of a scientist or observer when they alter the rules of a natural or unnatural system or experiment, mid-experiment. Something better, and more techy than ‘intervene.’

    thx

  5. Chipsa

    I’d be concerned with stabilization. There doesn’t appear to be anything to stabilize the spacecraft into a fixed orientation. A normal, cheap method would be to have an extensible boom, and allow gravity to tidally stabilize it.

  6. vince charles

    MadScientist, please familiarize yourself with a subject before you toss off judgements:

    “is that an “artist’s impression” or did someone actually draw it up like that?”

    If this is an artist’s impression, it’s not a stretch, because… the structure and many components are what the multiple, competitive COTS vendors in this field have been offering for years now. And thus, flying for years now.

    “The solar panels will essentially be useless”

    The solar cells have performed just fine in the past decade’s flight experience, because terrestrial sites are attenuated, and mil-spec chips are power-hungry. This payload is neither. But, hey, I guess Boeing, Northrop Grumman, the Air Force, the Navy, NASA/NRO, DoE, other national governments, and countless universities around the world just can’t stop with these “useless” sats. Oh, and that asteroid-mining firm, too. Yeah, essentially useless, every one.

    “need a large battery”

    _Small_ batteries, discrete or in daughtercard form factor, are again COTS if necessary. Some groups simply don’t bother, and “pocket the difference” instead.

    “Are the circuits designed to operate in reduced pressures?”

    The well-implemented groups get their CubeSat circuits to operate for years… if necessary. Many other experiments take only weeks, and going to mil-spec circuitry is then a huge waste. That’s for them to decide, not you.

    “What’s the thermal management plan”

    Again, if you need 6 months to 6 years of lifetime, then you implement a thermal-management plan. If you can get all your tests off in 6 weeks, then you “pocket the difference” instead, because the decade of flight experience shows that that isn’t a deal-breaker, particularly compared to desktop CPUs, which might as well be easy-bake ovens. Many experimenters are, again, just fine with pocketing the difference.

    “how is it pointed”

    Not only is NRO flying their CubeSat series, but academic groups have imaged other spacecraft from their CubeSats. How? They figured it out. Sorry if you weren’t notified of this immediately.

    Again, if you don’t get it, then maybe… you don’t get it:

    http://www.sstl.co.uk/divisions/earth-observation-science/science-missions/strand-nanosatellite/strand-faqs
    http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/16476483

  7. Mike Saunders

    Mad Scientist,

    Probably there will be a small battery for the start of the flight, like deployment etc. Other than that its possible to operate on burst power using capacitors. The critical instruments will just go into sleep mode and wake during power ups. This is how some of them have been done in the past. Cube sats are well known and there is a lot of experience with building them.

  8. Lukas

    Sorry to threadjack, but: China is launching for a historic space mission today (in about 4 hours). I was surprised to see so little coverage (nothing here or on baut).

    They are launching their first female astronaut on a mission with a crew of 3. If successful, they will join russia and usa in the club of countries to have conducted manned dockings. Their capsule is planned to dock with their already orbiting laboratory module.

    Some links:
    http://english.cntv.cn/special/shenzhou9/index.shtml
    http://edition.cnn.com/2012/06/15/world/asia/china-space-launch/index.html?hpt=hp_t3

  9. Lukas

    Since the post with links awaiting moderation here without the links:

    Sorry to threadjack, but: China is launching for a historic space mission today (in about 4 hours). I was surprised to see so little coverage (nothing here or on baut).

    They are launching their first female astronaut on a mission with a crew of 3. If successful, they will join russia and usa in the club of countries to have conducted manned dockings. Their capsule is planned to dock with their already orbiting laboratory module.

  10. Thameron

    Perhaps this article needs to be juxtaposed with the frequent articles about accumulating space junk in orbit causing problems for the space station and other satellites. So we should really make a decision here. Should every high school kid get to do his science project in space or should we keep LEO clean of such things?

  11. MadScientist

    @Wayne: Thanks for the link, but Munin had fewer instruments and far more solar panels. The idea for this cube sounds far too utopic for me. Even if instruments were switched on and off, that’s an awful lot of instruments competing for observing time.

    @vince charles: Why such a hatred of Boeing and the like? I’m familiar with SSTL – and I’m not impressed by their space junk. I’m still wondering why EADS bought ‘em.

  12. Mike Saunders

    How come nobody is writing about the launch of the Chinese ‘nauts to their space station? Other people ask this too above me. Curiously, the autonomous space plane flown for many days past mission end date lands at the same time as the Chinese launch. Yet no space geeks talk about either of these events. Why? I’m not claiming conspiracy, but its weird that so much is going on and no one seems to care…

  13. Lukas

    @Mike: that was my post above. Maybe it’s easier to get excited about something where you can actually follow the steps they are making fairly closely (like with spacex). With the Chinese program it’s a lot harder to find some of the details of what’s actually going on. I only stumbled across this on the day of the launch and then managed to miss the actual launch.

    Still, now after the launch I would have expected at least a casual mention here instead of/before some post on snow crop circles..

  14. @11 Madscientist: Thanks for the link, but Munin had fewer instruments and far more solar panels. The idea for this cube sounds far too utopic for me. Even if instruments were switched on and off, that’s an awful lot of instruments competing for observing time.

    The Munin sat was launched in 2000. My bet is that this is possible because electronics have come a long way in 12 years. The boom in smartphones, tablets, netbooks etc have led to a lot of progress in the design of low-power processors and electronics.

  15. vince charles

    11. MadScientist Said:
    June 16th, 2012 at 4:51 pm

    MadScientist, that’s what you drew from my post? Recalibrate your sarcasm sensor… and reread your own post, to which I was replying and quoting.

    Back on topic: Joseph G is taking a guess, and he got it better than you did. Not only are experimenters’ chips faster and lower-wattage than mil-spec, but they will keep improving faster, sooner.

  16. vince charles

    10. Thameron Said:
    June 16th, 2012 at 5:48 am

    “Perhaps this article needs to be juxtaposed with the frequent articles about accumulating space junk in orbit causing problems for the space station and other satellites. So we should really make a decision here. Should every high school kid get to do his science project in space or should we keep LEO clean of such things?”

    You’re really not in this business, I see. Densities and mass efficiencies work out favorably compared to spacecraft in general, so CubeSats are already ahead of the field at launch time. In terms of active mitigation, this segment is, also, leading the industry.

  17. Jeez, I never thought that the basic design specs of micro-satellites would be cause for such contentious debate :-P Especially when so few details are actually known. Of course, lack of information never stopped humans from arguing before ;)

  18. vince charles

    Go through some of the stock parts catalogs, from the several, competing CubeSat vendors: CubeSatKit, Pumpkin, the Brit one, the couple of Euro ones, etc. All the basic details and specs are actually known. Though of course, the whole point is to try something unknown, with your own experimental gear. Still, not having to reinvent the wheel (structure/power/transmitter/etc.) means you can actually concentrate on your experiment.

    “I’m familiar with SSTL – and I’m not impressed by their space junk. I’m still wondering why EADS bought ‘em.”

    That’s the beauty of a published, thriving platform. Not only does it destroy the notion that you’re the smartest person/group in the field… it actually feeds off the destruction, and thus invites new experimenters and their ideas. If SSTL’s smartphone-based mission fails, then perhaps NASA Ames’ smartphone mission will manage to figure it out… or some university team, or even a bunch of well-off techies in their free time. SSTL did not drop the baton, because it can’t: this race has no baton. Or, a thousand batons, however you want to look at it.

  19. Andy Clayman

    Planetary Resources is also looking to do a kickstarter for a satellite.

    http://www.planetaryresources.com/2012/06/back-us-on-kickstarter/

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