A few weeks ago, the small company NanoSatisfi announced a Kickstarter campaign to launch a small satellite called ArduSat into Earth orbit. This satellite would have contributions from the public both for funding and for experiments they could do on the diminutive device. Discover Magazine partnered with NanoSatisfi to run a contest where people could submit their own ideas for the satellite, and asked me to judge.
And judge I did, along with several other folks. And now we have a winner: Enrique Gomez, who wants to observe gamma rays emitted by lightning flashes on Earth! Through processes still not completely understood, the tremendous energy of lightning bolts, coupled with their incredibly focused magnetic fields, can generated bursts of high-energy light called gamma rays – it’s like the light we see, but every photon has millions of times the energy of visible light. These Terrestrial Gamma ray Flashes (or TGFs) are difficult to detect, and not a lot is known about them. Are they sent out in all directions, like light from a light bulb, or are they beamed, like light from a light house? If they’re beamed, do they go straight up, or at an angle?
Using a clever combination of instruments on the ArduSat, Gomez proposed detecting these TGFs to narrow down possible solutions to these questions. His idea was well thought-out and had solid physics backing it up, so we think it has a good chance of working on the ArduSat.
For his part, the idea that ArduSat is open source, and that the science will be made available to everyone, appealed to Gomez:
I believe all science is a "social science" in that we advance questions about nature as a community. Space science should be no exception. When I read in KickStarter about ArduSat, I knew I had to support it because it speaks to me about this belief. ArduSat is a prime example of two ideas that are worth sharing widely. The first is community supported science. People care about scientific and technological problems and thus they can gather their resources to answer them. The second is citizen science. People can not only ask scientific questions but can also work together as a community to answer them irrespective of their scientific or technical background. This is also where the open source spirit of Arduino technology comes into play by making even the technical dimension of a scientific project as accessible as possible. The project that I proposed came from my fascination with sky phenomena. There are so many mysteries in the Earth’s atmosphere between the troposphere and the ionosphere, which beg for inquisitive minds.
For his experiment, Gomez will receive a $1500 Development Kit for hardware and a week of uptime on the ArduSat to perform his tasks.
But he’s not the only one with time on the satellite: well over 100 people backed the KickStarter at a level that will give them access to the satellite in one way or another, from aiming it to take pictures up to getting a week of time on the bird.
I have to say, this is amazing to me. We live in an era where someone can take the kind of money they would spend on a decent set of clothes or a bicycle, and use it to help build and command a satellite! Between things like this, and launch costs about to drop due to private companies getting into the launch biz, I wonder what we’ll be seeing just a few years down the line?
My thanks to the folks at NanoSatisfi and Discover (and you too, Darlene!) for asking me to be a part of this.
Image credits: NanoSatisfi; NASA
Oh, I do love good news. A few days ago I wrote about a small group of aerospace experts who put up a Kickstarter project to launch a small satellite. The news? It’s fully funded! That means this satellite will get built and launched into space.
Be aware that, as with most Kickstarter projects, reaching their goal doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t pitch in. More money pledged even after the goal is achieved means more and cooler stuff the project people can do with it!
And in this case, kicking in some cash gives you a chance to quite literally be a part of this mission: Discover Magazine is holding a contest where you can enter to get your experiment performed on this wee satellite. The details can be found here. Here’s the basic stuff:
(1) Fund the ArduSat project, for however much or little as you desire. You’ll receive a personal code that identifies you as a donor.
(2) Read the contest guidelines here to learn about how you should design and submit your idea.
(3) Enter with this entry form, making sure to include your personal code.
(4) Wait for winners to be announced on July 20th, after judging by Discover blogger Phil Plait, Discover Editor-in-Chief Corey Powell, and an expert panel of judges.
Note #4 there: I’m a judge! I’m pleased and honored to be asked to participate in this, and I’m very excited to see what folks come up with. I think this is an excellent project for a high school class or similar groups, and given it only costs a dollar minimum it’s well worth the effort.
Very important: the contest ends on July 6, 2012! So get moving. And maybe get your very own idea off the ground, and literally into space.
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.