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Ask Slashdot: How Would You Build a Microsatellite?

samzenpus posted about a year ago | from the your-own-personal-satellite dept.

Space 117

Dishwasha writes "A fellow co-worker of mine turned me on to CubeSat; apparently there are commercial space companies that will launch CubeSat systems from their payload for a modest fee. Is anybody in the /. community involved in amateur microsatellite systems? How would I go about getting involved at an amateur level? Are there any amateur user groups and meetups I can join? I have limited background in all the prerequisites but am eager to learn even if it takes a lifetime. Any links to design and engineering of satellites would be appreciated."

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Building is easy, launching is hard (0)

Geoffrey.landis (926948) | about a year ago | (#42343189)

Anybody can build a satellite.

The hard question is, how are you going to get it launched?

Re:Building is easy, launching is hard (2)

jerquiaga (859470) | about a year ago | (#42343205)

Apparently that isn't the hard part, as the poster already identified a company that will do it.

Launching is hard (1)

Geoffrey.landis (926948) | about a year ago | (#42343713)

Apparently that isn't the hard part, as the poster already identified a company that will do it.


I'd suggest that the poster take a harder look.

Re:Building is easy, launching is hard (1)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about a year ago | (#42345259)

Apparently that isn't the hard part, as the poster already identified a company that will do it.

According to this article [satmagazine.com] the cost to launch a typical CubeSat is about $40k.

Re:Building is easy, launching is hard (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42345427)

So not hard per se, just expensive.

Really: launching is hard (1)

Geoffrey.landis (926948) | about a year ago | (#42348775)

So not hard per se, just expensive.

That article has no information whatsoever on how a private individual would procure a launch. And the prices are dubious-- slightly after the part quoted, for example, the article says "recently it was announced that CubeSats can fly on Atlas V launch vehicles. The cost of a single secondary payload on board of an Atlas V has been quoted as $1 to $2 million per slot."

Maybe, if you're an educational institution with good networking and negotiating skills, you might be able to negotiate a launch for $40K.

There are plenty of sites on how to build cubesats, and where to procure parts. Finding that information isn't hard; use google. As for launching-- that's up to you. Just saying that somewhere out there there are companies that will sell you a launch "for a modest fee"-- well, I suggest that there's a lot of handwaving here. If you want not just build a cubesat, but get it into orbit, you might want to nail this down a few more particulars: what companies? How do you get on their manifest? What are their requirements? Are they only selling launches to educational institutions at a cost that barely covers the cost of integration, or do they sell to individuals or amateur groups, which is what you seem to be? And, for the start-up companies, have they ever launched their vehicle into orbit, and if not, when do they expect to demonstrate their first launch?

Re:Building is easy, launching is hard (2)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | about a year ago | (#42346665)

That's why I'd go for a TubeSat [interorbital.com] instead. Launch costs are within what mere mortals might spend on a hobby at $8kUS.

Re:Building is easy, launching is hard (2)

RocketAcademy (2708739) | about a year ago | (#42348865)

The cost is about $40k if you can find someone who has extra space and will sell it to you at that price. There are more CubeSats than there are launches.

Most CubeSats are launched through NASA's ELANA program. The launch is free if you win the ELANA lottery. Most people who enter lotteries don't win them.

All launches at the moment are rideshares with larger payloads. There have been attempts to develop dedicated launchers for small satellites but none have made it to the launching pad. NASA created the Nanosatellite Launch Challenge to encourage development of a nanosat launcher. It was canceled before the competition began.

At the moment, most CubeSats are built as educational projects to train engineering students. Launching them into space is kind of a bonus, if it happens.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is working on an airborne launch system for small payloads (ALASA). The Army is working on its own launcher called SWORDS. It is not certain if these efforts will be successful or if the launches will be available for civilian payloads, if they are successful.

Re:Building is easy, launching is hard (1, Informative)

qubezz (520511) | about a year ago | (#42343207)

I would pay commercial space companies to launch my CubeSat systems for a modest fee. RTFA.

Re:Building is easy, launching is hard (1)

flimflammer (956759) | about a year ago | (#42344575)

He didn't even need to read the article; the very first sentence of the goddamn summary would have been enough.

Re:Building is easy, launching is hard (2)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | about a year ago | (#42346711)

To be fair, the "modest fee" is actually $40k, or in Average Joe language "about twice the cost of my car."

Or to me personally, "about four times the cost of all my cars combined."

Re:Building is easy, launching is hard (3, Informative)

PlusFiveTroll (754249) | about a year ago | (#42343457)

Anyone can build anything, the question is, will it work when it gets there.

Space is a totally alien environment from habitable earth. It's like being in the desert Antarctic and the inside of a nuclear reactor at the same time. If you're in the sun it's very hot and out of the sun it is very cold. There no atmosphere and whatever particles are around can contain high energies. Many substances stable at atmospheric pressure become volatile. Special lubricants have to be used to avoid all kinds of issues with evaporation, freezing, or sticking. Solar flares can fry you.

Any leaks or evaporation from the satellite can cause it to spin out of control. Any control system failure is fatal. You don't get to test the unit in zero gravity before hand. Your solar and power storage have to deal with all the above issues. Oh, if your components get hot, they have to radiate the heat away, no convection to do the work for you.

Re:Building is easy, launching is hard (4, Informative)

AikonMGB (1013995) | about a year ago | (#42343861)

A metal cube in low Earth orbit will equilibrate to about 25C if you cover the outside with solar cells and some reflective tape. The radiation environment isn't really all that bad below the Van Allen belts; use automotive grade parts and in general you'll be fine. No need to worry about lubricants because you shouldn't have any mechanical actuators (unless it's part of your payload or you really want to fly a reaction wheel). Good thermal ground planes in your boards and metal bosses tieing them to the structure will move heat away from components just fine. No need for a "point-or-die" solution, just put solar cells on all faces of your satellite; if you lose control authority (e.g. computer crash) you still generate enough keep-alive power. Gravity doesn't really have any impact unless your payload is a mechanical actuator, which again is not very common at the amateur cubesat scale. Leaks -- don't use pressurized gases or fluids; evaporation, just pick materials with < 1% total mass loss and less than 0.1% CVCM (i.e. Teflon insulation on wires instead of PVC).

As it turns out, amateur space isn't all that hard to do.

Re:Building is easy, launching is hard (1)

PlusFiveTroll (754249) | about a year ago | (#42343951)

What about communications in an uncontrolled spin? Can you radiate enough power omnidirectionally to establish communications with the ground, or other sat? I would assume that directional communications would be the preferred method. That said, I am ignorant of the methods small sats use for communication.

Re:Building is easy, launching is hard (4, Informative)

AikonMGB (1013995) | about a year ago | (#42344009)

Yeah, you can have omnidirectional antenna coverage for both uplink and downlink. Our S-band transmitter is capable of 1 Mbps omnidirectional downlink at 650 km. This is the preferred method if you can close your link and data budgets because it makes the system vastly simpler and inherently fail safe (if it crashes and you lose attitude control, you can still talk to it). A secondary directional downlink may be reasonable if you have very high data requirements (e.g. streaming video or ultra high definition imagery), but generally speaking you never want to be in the situation where you can't talk to the spacecraft if it can't point at you, even in big space.

Re:Building is easy, launching is hard (3, Interesting)

Animats (122034) | about a year ago | (#42345285)

Yeah, you can have omnidirectional antenna coverage for both uplink and downlink. ... This is the preferred method if you can close your link and data budgets because it makes the system vastly simpler and inherently fail safe. ... A secondary directional downlink may be reasonable if you have very high data requirements (e.g. streaming video or ultra high definition imagery)

Most commercial and military satellites have a low-bandwidth omnidirectional uplink and downlink for control. USAF satellites used to have (and may still have) almost a complete separation between the "bus" and "payload" sides, with the "bus" side on omni antennas. At the ground end, the USAF had big steerable dishes at about six tracking stations around the world. The spacecraft was piloted through those. Command and control of most USAF satellites were run from the Blue Cube in Sunnyvale until that operation was moved to Falcon and Vandenberg AFBs.

Once the spacecraft was in the desired orbit and oriented, directional antennas were used by the payload to communicate with the payload user's control center. With directional antennas, smaller ground-side dishes could be used. The big steerable dishes were a scarce resource needed for multiple satellites, so tying them up for payload data like imagery was avoided.

Back in the early 1980s, one of the amateur radio satellites was incorrectly commanded to transmit on its own control receive frequency. This blocked the receiver from receiving further commands. To recover the satellite, the Stanford Dish [wikipedia.org] was used. That 46 meter steerable radio telescope had, left over from old USAF work, a 3MW transmitter. The combination of a huge dish and a high powered transmitter allowed focusing enough power on the satellite to get through to the receiver and tell the satellite to change its transmit frequency. It took two tries (the first time the codes sent were wrong) but on the second try it worked.

Re:Building is easy, launching is hard (5, Interesting)

abushga (864910) | about a year ago | (#42344041)

One tried and true anti-spin method utilized with CanSats (predecessors to CubeSats, see http://www.arliss.org/ [arliss.org] is to attach a refrigerator magnet to one end of the satellite. The 'sat will flip 180 degrees as it passes over north and south poles, but remains otherwise in stable orientation. Sometimes simple is good :-)

A man is rich in direct proportion
          to the number of things he can afford
                    to leave alone.
                                                                  — Thoreau

Re:Building is easy, launching is hard (4, Interesting)

Shavano (2541114) | about a year ago | (#42344611)

You can slowly kill the spin by loading the satellite with magnetic torque rods. The rods cause the satellite to orient to the Earth's magnetic field. There are active and passive systems.

For coms that are effective in a spin, a couple of omni whips at right angles should do it. The basic unit is called a 1U Cubesat and it's 10cm x 10cm x 10cm container, but they can have mechanisms to pop out antennas as soon as they get out of the container. Some of the designs I've seen have pop-out arrangements of solar cells so they can have up to 500 cm2 of solar cell area and are made to orbit with them pointed away from the Earth. Cubesats can be stacked several in a launch container. (Like a six-pack.) There are 1U, 2U and 3U designs.

This year's Smallsat Conference is at Utah State University - Logan Utah, August 10 – 15, 2013

Smallsat [smallsat.org]

Re:Building is easy, launching is hard (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42343869)

This just makes it sound all the more exciting. Stop convincing me to try, please.

Re:Building is easy, launching is hard (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42343897)

You said:

You don't get to test the unit in zero gravity before hand...Oh, if your components get hot, they have to radiate the heat away, no convection to do the work for you.

About the zero gravity, assuming a ride in the vomit comet is too expensive, a layperson can go to their nearest medium-large electronics facility and pay them for a run on a shake table. [vibrationmaster.com] About the temperature, the layperson could use a similar manufacturer and test operation in a Thermal shock [thermotron.com] chamber which is basically an oven insulated from but mated with a chamber cooled by liquid nitrogen. You can literally shift from over a hundred degrees Celsius environment to a negative thirty in 1 second. You could probably get runs in for free if your friends work there, or explain that you're a hobbyist and get a discounted rate. If your piece can survive a shake table and thermal cycling, it can probably withstand space.

-- Ethanol-fueled

Re:Building is easy, launching is hard (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42343489)

Wow. Virtually every statement in this post is incorrect.

OP, get off Slashdot and go to amsat.org

Now. Good bye.

Re:Building is easy, launching is hard (4, Insightful)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about a year ago | (#42344075)

Wow. Virtually every statement in this post is incorrect.

OP, get off Slashdot and go to amsat.org

Now. Good bye.

Since this is an AC, I thought I'd repost it. AMSAT [amsat.org] is exactly the organization you want. They are a group of amateur radio operators who have successfully built several communications satellites. Even if you choose to work with another group (or start your own), their experiences will be most helpful.

Re:Building is easy, launching is hard (1)

aphelion_rock (575206) | about a year ago | (#42343693)

Anybody can build a satellite.

The hard question is, how are you going to get it launched?

Have you tried asking North Korea? They have the launch rocket but unable to get the satellite to work..

Ham license and Amsat (4, Informative)

frovingslosh (582462) | about a year ago | (#42343223)

You might want to get a ham radio license, and even if you don't, visit the website of Amsat (http://www.amsat.org), a worldwide group that has put many satellites in orbit. You are welcome to join even without an amateur radio license.

Build a Micro Satellite? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42343229)

Way back when there were amateur radio (Ham Radio) groups that used to build satellites that NASA would launch. The brand name of one of these was OSCAR.
You could try contacting your local HAM radio club to see if they know of any such efforts on going.
A University Engineering department might very well have a ham radion club, (even though ham radio is not as popular as it once was).

Books By Sandy Antunes? (3, Informative)

eldavojohn (898314) | about a year ago | (#42343235)

Disclaimer: I have no personal experience doing this. I noticed on O'Reilly there is a cheap series of books [oreilly.com] by Sandy Antunes [wikipedia.org] . I think surviving orbit will be your biggest challenge [oreilly.com] ? No clue on the quality of those books ...

Re:Books By Sandy Antunes? (1)

Dishwasha (125561) | about a year ago | (#42345281)

Bad@SS!!! That is most perfect. If I could mod replies to my posting I would mod you +1 Very Helpful!

If only (1, Troll)

Capt.DrumkenBum (1173011) | about a year ago | (#42343237)

If only there were some place to search for knowledge. But even if there were, it would be unlikely to contain technical knowledge, or any way to get like minded people in touch with each other.
Sounds like a great idea for a new business. I am sure it would be a real money maker.

Re:If only (2)

devphaeton (695736) | about a year ago | (#42343307)

With this business philosophy, one could have regional offices that collect this knowledge and store documents of it in little cannisters. When someone in one region needs to access the knowledge from a different region, they could send a request and have that cannister (with the relevant document inside) sent along a pneumatic piping system, just like at the bank teller window. One could call this business The National Tube Service, or simply The Tubes(tm).

Re:If only (4, Insightful)

garyebickford (222422) | about a year ago | (#42343677)

It would be even better if there was a way for many different people to add information, make corrections, discuss the implications, and point others to places that contain additional resources.

Re:If only (3, Funny)

Capt.DrumkenBum (1173011) | about a year ago | (#42344113)

That's just crazy talk! You need to lay off the drugs.

Re:If only (1)

garyebickford (222422) | about a year ago | (#42344181)

Actually I don't need drugs any more. I have this thing where I just type on a keyboard, look at cat pictures, and every time I click the mouse I get a Dopamine rush. It's kind of addictive as a result of all those D hits though.

Firstly, electronics. (1)

queazocotal (915608) | about a year ago | (#42343251)

Essentially all the parts of a microsatellite are deeply involved with electronics.
The smaller you can make them, and the lower power, the better.
Lower power smaller electronics mean simpler cases, lighter batteries, solar cells, ...
Cleverer electronics can remove the need for mechanical parts - if you can trigger the shutter of a camera when pointing in the right direction, versus having a fully stabilised satellite, for example.

Re:Firstly, electronics. (1)

tibit (1762298) | about a year ago | (#42343371)

This is not very informative. Size and power consumption matter, but what really matters is reliability and survivability. And forget the whole thing if you don't intend to perform full-on hardware-in-the-loop testing. Ideally in a vacuum chamber. Yes, even if you don't do such testing, you may be lucky and it may work. Or I may win enough in a lotto drawing to order a Falcon Heavy launch from Space X. Your pick.

Re:Firstly, electronics. (2)

garyebickford (222422) | about a year ago | (#42343687)

Or I may win enough in a lotto drawing to order a Falcon Heavy launch from Space X. Your pick.

This is irrelevant, but this line got me thinking. You are actually in the ballpark. Imagine that - space technology has gotten to the point where Joe Shmoe from Poughkeepsie could buy a lottery ticket, and a few weeks later start getting prepped for a trip into orbit on his own Falcon. Has anyone drunk a beer in space?

Re:Firstly, electronics. (1)

ganjadude (952775) | about a year ago | (#42343949)

I do recall hearing about a special space brew. I am not talking about the "space brew" that they made from yeast brought into space, but a specially brewed brew that was consumable in space. It was on one of the beer shows in nat geo or history

On another note, I work in poughkeepsie from time to time.

Re:Firstly, electronics. (1)

Neil Boekend (1854906) | about a year ago | (#42345843)

You'd also need bottles with a tube and a ball valve because otherwise the pressure would probably force a great deal of beer into the cabin. No gravity to keep it in the bottle, and free flowing liquids amongst that number of life-preserving computers is not something that I'd like to test.

For the beer itself: it seems you'd want a strong tasting beer. Taste buds down in space (well, actually it's smell) [google.nl] , so I'd advise a very malty brown beer. No pils malt (3-5 EBC), replace that with munich malt (15 EBC) or even Amber malt (up to 50 EBC). The medium-roasted malts should be a bit darker than usual to: some caramel malt of 350 EBC. Throw in 2% or so of the chocolate malt (900 EBC) or black malt (1200 EBC).
FYI: EBC is a measure for the amount of roasting of the malt. Higher is darker and tastier. Low is the basis, medium the body of the taste and high is the dark color and roasted taste. Chocolate malt is still sweet, dark malt is a bit charred to my taste.

Ug... a modest fee to create more space junk.... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42343265)

How much for a payload of just ball bearings?

Re:Ug... a modest fee to create more space junk... (1)

Shavano (2541114) | about a year ago | (#42344635)

That would not be allowed. The government reviews your payload to make sure you're not just launching space junk. Also, slots on the cubesat launchers are highly coveted and there would be mobs of university students who would skin you alive and feed you to the rats over in the biology lab.

Re:Ug... a modest fee to create more space junk... (1)

Yoda222 (943886) | about a year ago | (#42345443)

Which government ? The one from the launcher company* ? Just ask Congo for a slot in the next launch http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TrlKWtkce5I [youtube.com] , you can probably get it if you pay enough. * In fact if you are in the US or use any US space equipment, the US government take also a look. But just move to Europe and buy european stuff...

Re:Ug... a modest fee to create more space junk... (1)

Dereck1701 (1922824) | about a year ago | (#42344727)

I believe these kind of armature cubesats are usually deployed at low altitudes, before the upper stage lights up to boost the main satellite into a higher orbit. Such orbits are only short term, even under the most optimal circumstances they could only stay up about 25 years, most deorbit within a couple years.

AMSAT - The Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42343283)


One word - AMSAT (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42343349)

You want to talk to AMSAT, the ham radio homebrew satellite group. They've been building and launching homebrewed satellites for a long time, roughly since the start of US spaceflight. If you are outside the US, you will want to talk to the AMSAT like group in your home country.


This is not a project to undertake lightly. Putting something into space involves a good bit of regulatory compliance. For example, properly documenting that your satellite will deorbit as required, so as not to pose a risk to later satellites. Plus, there can be issues about exporting satellite technology since the launch is likely to take place outside the US. In the US, exporting satellite technology can be treated under the law like exporting military weapons. Serious business.

Re:One word - AMSAT (1)

nospam007 (722110) | about a year ago | (#42344939)

"This is not a project to undertake lightly. Putting something into space involves a good bit of regulatory compliance. ....since the launch is likely to take place outside the US."

So, if you use a foreign rocket on foreign soil, WTF does the US government have to regulate it?

Re:One word - AMSAT (1)

Shadowmist (57488) | about a year ago | (#42344995)

"This is not a project to undertake lightly. Putting something into space involves a good bit of regulatory compliance. ....since the launch is likely to take place outside the US."

So, if you use a foreign rocket on foreign soil, WTF does the US government have to regulate it?

There's a whole list of technology the U.S. does NOT want shipped to certain hostile or potentially hostile powers. It's not a laughing matter.

Re:One word - AMSAT (2)

Yoda222 (943886) | about a year ago | (#42345469)

It's not a laughing matter.

In fact it's quite funny to see of this protective law has failed. You can go in Europe and ask european manufacter to build an ITAR-free satellite. A satellite without any US technology. Good for US business.

Re:One word - AMSAT (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42346365)

US law would apply if US persons export a sattelite from the US to be launched in another country. Of course, US law not applicable if sattellite built outside of the US and launched outside of the US.

The most important thing... (3, Informative)

camperdave (969942) | about a year ago | (#42343357)

The most important thing is to decide what you want your CubeSat to do. Are you out for a Sputnik style beacon that you can detect when it goes overhead? Are you going to be taking pictures of all the balloon cameras that didn't make it into space?

Once you decide what you are going to do, then you can start in on the design. Cubesat.org [cubesat.org] has all sorts of design guidelines, etc.

As for organizations, mailing lists, and the like, the external links on the Wikipedia page you linked into your article should provide an excellent starting point.

Re:The most important thing... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42343551)

Do they have design guidelines on how to attach frikkin' lasers to these CubeSats?

Re:The most important thing... (1)

lister king of smeg (2481612) | about a year ago | (#42343741)

easy solder a laser pointer to the side.
you never said a useful laser.

Re:The most important thing... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42344263)

Can't do that. It violates the cube shape, so it won't fit into the deployment mechanism. You have to build the laser into the inside of the cubesat, and have a hole for the laser beam to come out.

Re:The most important thing... (1)

Shavano (2541114) | about a year ago | (#42344659)

No it doesn't. A small laser pointer fits. Think the cat-toy size. Nobody does this because the spot size of a laser at the ground from 200 miles up is real small and it's hard to point the satellite that accurately.

Re:The most important thing... (1)

camperdave (969942) | about a year ago | (#42344925)

components shall not exceed 6.5 mm normal to the surface of the 100.0 mm cube

Your typical dollar store keychain laser pointer is 10mm or more in diameter. It violates the specs.

Re:The most important thing... (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | about a year ago | (#42346453)

Your typical dollar store keychain laser pointer is 10mm or more in diameter. It violates the specs.

Doesn't that mean they won't stick out more than 6.5mm from the outside of the cube? I don't see why it can't be inside the cube. Also, the laser modules that go into those laser pointers are cheaply and readily available, I think I ordered five for three bucks from DealExtreme, I'd have to back and check prices but I think that's right. And this was just an impulse buy, it might be possible to get them cheaper.

Re:The most important thing... (1)

camperdave (969942) | about a year ago | (#42347783)

Doesn't that mean they won't stick out more than 6.5mm from the outside of the cube?

No. It means that they *WILL* stick out more than 6.5mm from the outside of the cube. 10mm>6.5mm. That means it violates the cubesat specs.

I don't see why it can't be inside the cube.

That was AC's point. You've got a all sorts of space inside the cubesat. Why would you try and solder something on the outside?

Re:The most important thing... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42347965)

Actually, the spot size would be huge. Although these lasers emit a pure, coherent beam, they don't emit a very columnated beam. They require a lens to get a parallel beam, and on these el-cheapo cat toy lasers that is going to be a cheap molded plastic lens; in other words, it aint a precision optical instrument. If it has a noticable beam spread across a room, from orbit the spot size is going to be continent sized.

How to build a microsatellite... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42343409)

Stick a few base pairs together. Repeat as needed.

try university contacts (4, Informative)

Shavano (2541114) | about a year ago | (#42343415)

Stanford and Cal Poly has been involved from early on and has a lot of experience with cubesat launches. UNM also has a program and I think UM and U of Utah Logan. Probably lots of others. Basically schools with a strong Aerospace program are likely to be involved and help with getting in contact with good people. You may, if you have interesting tech knowledge, be able to advise a group of students on a project they are already doing.

Also the air force schools do projects (AFA and AFIT) but they might be harder to work with.

Re:try university contacts (1)

Areyoukiddingme (1289470) | about a year ago | (#42344633)

And as a followup, there are very good reasons to get involved via a program like this: they have necessary equipment to be sure an assembled cubesat will actually survive. Most especially, a shake table and a vacuum chamber. Don't even try if you can't get access to both of these things. Vacuum is tough enough to deal with, but the worst part is the launch itself. The shake table will let you know if your cube can survive launch.

Re:try university contacts (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | about a year ago | (#42346459)

there are very good reasons to get involved via a program like this: they have necessary equipment to be sure an assembled cubesat will actually survive. Most especially, a shake table and a vacuum chamber. Don't even try if you can't get access to both of these things

A vacuum chamber is easy to build or buy. It's an old school pressure cooker, and any vac pump, some are quite inexpensive. I use a compressor-driven one that just uses a venturi which produces surprisingly low vacuum. You're not going to get the kind of vac they get, but you'll get enough to pop anything cheap. A shake table is tougher. Get in contact with an orchard :)

My frat bros launched a satellite (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42343461)

it had vials of jizz, used condoms, used panties, etc.

Find Your Why (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42343475)

Figure out why you want a satellite or rather what you'd want to accomplish with it. Don't put something up in orbit just so you can say you've done it. There's enough trash up there already.

Re:Find Your Why (Iridium?) (1)

Herve5 (879674) | about a year ago | (#42345803)

What you say is significant, but I'd not be worried too much in this orbit. It's so low that atmospheric drag will get the thing down within one year (remember the space station needs tons of ergols yearly just to maintain it where it is, in the same surroundings).
What worries me more is the disappointment of you all people when you'll realize within 1 litre or two you'll just not be able to fit actual pointing (so no images) and this orbit will leave your beast in ground sight just a couple of minutes per day (so no contact nor relay at will).
One thing that may be efficient is a large collection of radio relay, commonly shared. But then you'll quickly find it's too costly to deploy.

To end in a more positive note: besides Cubesats you have a slightly costlier but *much* more efficient alternative: Iridium passenger payloads.
There, you have much more space allowed, a power plug and an optical-compatible pointing provided by the host, along with optional high-throughput links *all the time* along the whole orbit, so indeed this starts providing an actual experiment potential...
http://investor.iridium.com/releasedetail.cfm?ReleaseID=547289 [iridium.com]
http://www.orbital.com/HostedPayloads/ [orbital.com]

Modest?! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42343517)

Since when is upward of $150K (satelite +launch) became "modest"?

Re:Modest?! (1)

garyebickford (222422) | about a year ago | (#42343707)

Think of it as one Tesla Roadster. I'm sure some people have two. I'm also sure that you (or most people on this discussion) could, if they really wanted to, scrounge that much money from friends, relatives and whatnot for a good cause. Compared to the historical expectation of cost, modest is a pretty good word - three orders of magnitude less than the cost of most satellite launches you read about in the paper.

How to build a microsatellite (3, Funny)

binarstu (720435) | about a year ago | (#42343537)

Well, I would start with a bunch of nucleotides (A, T, G, and C), then assemble them into a DNA strand such that the same short sequence of nucleotides is repeated over and over again in the strand. That's all you need for a microsatellite, really. Doing this will not be easy, of course, without access to some very sophisticated lab equipment... Oh, wait -- you aren't talking about that kind of microsatellite [wikipedia.org] . Moving along...

Re:How to build a microsatellite (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42343715)

I am so glad someone posted with this interpretation. It was my take on the topic at first glance as well.

How does one build a micro-sattelite? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42343541)

First you build a large machine capable of building both a same-size satellite and a copy of itself at half its original size.

Then you just turn it on.

Start with learning microcontrollers (2)

werepants (1912634) | about a year ago | (#42343567)

I was involved in a recent university project that launched a payload on a suborbital sounding rocket. Depending on your objectives, getting into Arduino or Beagleboard or Gumstix or some similar low-power microcontroller will really open up a lot of possibilities for you. We launched a capsule that radio'd back inertial data using largely off-the-shelf components from places like Sparkfun.

ASMAT and Amateur Radio! (3, Informative)

Audrey23 (663718) | about a year ago | (#42343659)

You will find much information on AMSAT (http://www.amsat.org) , JAMSAT (http://www.jamsat.or.jp) or AMSAT-UK (http://www.uk.amsat.org) for some of the amateur organizations around the world, they have been around for decades and have a wealth of experience and can use any offered help! Also get your amateur radio license and then you can access the existing birds that are up there, ARRL (American Radio Relay League) or RSGB (Radio Society of Great Britain) or other organizations are a good place to start. I can't seem to get links to work on /. so will have to leave it up to you to google the above acronyms to find out more. I have built my share of down-converters and donated my share of money to get some of the satellites into orbit, it is extremely expensive to get something into orbit, not so hard building it in comparison, most of the expense is just getting it out of the gravity well and orbiting. In fact if you go to the UK AMSAT web site they have a bit on the latest cubesat on there now :)

From a theory point of view... (1)

AliasMrAlias (1445453) | about a year ago | (#42343789)

this book [astrobooks.com] is the standard intro to general space engineering according to my lecturer (I'm doing an MSc in Astronautics and Space Engineering)

Not looking at microsatellites (4, Informative)

AikonMGB (1013995) | about a year ago | (#42343889)

Generally speaking, microsatellites are in the range of 10 kg to 100 kg. What you are talking about are cubesats, which are generally nanosatellites (1 kg to 10 kg) and picosatellites (< 1 kg). As others have said, the AMSAT programme is a great starting point; next August come out to the Cubesat workshop [cubesat.org] and, if interested, hang out for the USU Small Satellite Conference [smallsat.org] ; lots of industry, academia, and government representation. We host a booth every year, as do most relevant players in North America.

Re:Not looking at microsatellites (2)

Tammuz (320333) | about a year ago | (#42345027)

I was also going to recommend cubesat.org and smallsat.org. The mailing list at cubesat@cubesat.org is active with numerous ongoing projects, mostly university-based. There are ITAR issues with American citizens participating in open projects, but there is a one-man korean satellite/art project at http://opensat.cc/about.html that has scheduled a launch.

Another collaborative effort is the GENSO organization, attempting to coordinate a federation of volunteer ground stations to expand telemetry coverage.

It's true that small satellites are built from off-the-shelf components and that a 500km orbit is generally self-cleaning due to atmospheric drag, but there are still some significant engineering challenges involved.

I'm a hobbyist-level engineer with an MS CS; my thesis focused on methods of software reliability for satellites in low-Earth orbit. Here are a few of the things that I consider to be "difficult" parts of a cubesat:
- RF communication on a very small power budget. Expensive (for a hobbyist) commercial solutions exist.
- Power management and design. Expensive (for a hobbyist) commercial solutions exist.
- Attitude determination and control.
- Passing the specific thermal/vibration testing requirements for a specific launch provider
- Surviving radiation-induced errors. A significant fraction of student-built failed satellites are lumped into "Command and Data Handling Failure" that could be attributed to the wrong bit flipped at the wrong time

There are a few happy coincidences that make it easier:
- most orbits result in alternating sun/shadow exposure, every 90 minutes. This just happens to make the temperature of the typical picosatellite oscillate between -20-80F-ish (very, very -ish) such that electronic components keep working with a minimum of thermal engineering.
- low-earth orbit has enough atmospheric drag that you don't have to build an active deorbit mechanism to avoid becoming hazardous space junk
- the radiation energy levels at low-earth orbit are enough to cause single-event-upsets (flipped bits) in RAM, but NOT enough to damage typical FLASH memory, so an appropriate reset mechanism is usually sufficient. (A NASA engineer summarized it as "Restarting from a known good state")

Also, WOW, there's a lot of ignorant posts here on slashdot. I don't remember the signal-to-noise being this bad, but I could be biased by nostalgia.

Re:Not looking at microsatellites (1)

solidraven (1633185) | about a year ago | (#42345643)

The RF communications aren't that hard depending on the frequency range you're allowed to work in. Main problem I see is that you'll probably have to go for GaAs based amplifier designs, they tend to perform better in hostile environments like space. But GaAs devices have a few nasty things about them, they tend to oscillate at frequencies you wouldn't expect at the start. Combined with the better characteristics in general they're a good choice for spacecraft. Avago has a few nice GaAs power FETs. Combined with a directional antenna you should have no problem getting your data back to the ground.

Fact is you can get space grade electronics from most manufacturers now, you might want to look into those. They're a bit more expensive but very reliable. Your main problem will be separating essential from non-essential systems. Like it does pay to have a separate microcontroller take care of the commands received and have something like an ARM processor up when you need processing power. For the rest the usual design guidelines: avoid loops, use a large ground plane, etc.

Some Recommendations (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42344379)

As many have said, the amateur radio community has been working in that realm for a while and is a great place to start. The best resource for a general but complete understanding of satellites and their design from a mission perspective (including satellite busses and subsystems) is Space Mission Analysis and Design (see www.smad.com) which is now in essentially the 4th version and is really an excellent text. I had an opportunity to attend the actual course taught by Dr. Wertz and it was great and I read the 3rd edition cover-to-cover (read != deeply understood haha). The Responsive Space (www.responsivespace.com) conference is another interesting venue to add to the smallsat resources previously mentioned.

Unfortunately, space is expensive (even when talking cubesats and shared rides). While there are hobby groups in AMSAT and other communities, for the most part if you aren't government, industry, or academia sponsored by government or industry it can be tough to get to any significant non-professional involvement in space. Don't let that stop you from trying though, and heck you can always make a hobby into a career change!

It's expensive (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42344461)

I work in a precision machine shop that does about half its work for a satellite company. We make brackets, wave guides and other components. These parts often have extremely tight tolerances (0.0005") and are often made of exotic materials (titanium, kapton, graphite, etc - not stuff you find in an average shop). These are not cheap parts. I can't imagine that a group of amateurs would have the funds to build a satellite, even if it is a nano model. You may be lucky enough to participate in that, but I wouldn't count on your project going to space.

Why put more junk in space? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42344521)

Why put more junk in space? While it may be interesting to build something like this, there should be a valid reason for launching making low Earth orbit even more crowded. There has already been one confirmed catastrophic collision between two satellites from different countries. I'm all for learning and engaging in new science and hobbies, but there is so much space junk orbiting the Earth that I think this is not a place for the average or gifted Slashdot scientist. And while I'm on the subject of overcrowding of junk, these professional hobbiests with advanced first-person-view remote controlled aircraft flying in and above the clouds pose a risk for small and commercial aircraft. There are plenty of YouTube videos showing these remote piloted hobby aircraft. I have flown in single engine aircraft and occupying the same airspace as hobbiests is a little frightening.

Re:Why put more junk in space? (1)

iphinome (810750) | about a year ago | (#42344665)

Why put more junk in space?

Untouchable Pirate Bay mirror?

Above the cloud storage?

Simple construction... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42344603)

Duct tape, used condoms, 3 dildos, 9 vibrators, the contents of 18 cans of spam, 1 3 month old baby. You mix them all together in a blender, shove it up your ass, and fart.

Yeah ok (1)

boulat (216724) | about a year ago | (#42344825)

One of these companies that supposedly promises to launch your 1U CubeSat is charging $125k for 1kg 1U CubeSat, with a 2 year delivery date. And that is to low earth orbit. Price goes up to $250k for geosync orbit, and $490k to gso/low lunar orbit, whatever that means. Meanwhile, back on Earth, actual prices to launch 1kg of mass into space are $10k with most rockets, or $5k with SpaceX. So this article, as well as Wiki entry are essentially advertisement for a crappy, slow product, that costs 25x-100x more than what the actual price is. And people wonder why we haven't gotten to Mars yet.

Naval Academy cubesats (1)

klic (739114) | about a year ago | (#42344979)

For "conventional" cubesats, there are many universities working with the US Naval Academy. They have a "2U" cubesat design with a slightly-smaller-than-1U-sized plug-in compartment, which provides power and communications to a plug-in experiment provided by a university research partner. So, the university partner provides the experimental plugin, and a Really Good Story to convince the USNA that the experiment is worthwhile. USNA launches the cubesat, and the middies manage it, to get experience managing satellite assets without risking big military birds. At least, that is what I remember from attending the Amsat symposium a couple of years ago to give a paper on something Completely Different.

Something Completely Different - Server Sky (1)

klic (739114) | about a year ago | (#42345101)

For the last four years, I (and a tiny part-time team of volunteers) have been working on a different way to think about satellites:

http://server-sky.com/ [server-sky.com]

These will be 3 gram, dinner-plate-diameter 50 micron thick satellites, based on some recent advances in semiconductor technology and Ivan Bekey's "Advanced Space System Concepts and Technologies: 2010-2030+". We are doing most of this as open technology, and I make presentations to groups that might help. Monday at NIST Gaithersburg, for example.

Satellites are surfaces that combine stimuli and solar power to make microwave transmissions to earth. A one micron thick layer of graded junction indium phosphide makes a 20% efficient solar cell and is very rad-hard. Ditto for Penryn-process silicon. That recent work, plus a number of other fortuitous recent discoveries, plus the kind of manufacturing techniques we use to make LCD displays, plus solar-sail-like maneuvering means we can built extremely thin satellites. They need to be heavier than 100g/m^2 to stabilize their orbits against light pressure, but they still can beat current satellite watt-to-kilogram ratios by more than a factor of 100.

The "satellites" will be arrays of thousands of these thinsats - a 99 kg array will contain 33 thousand of them, and collect about 160 kilowatts. That fits the sub-100kg definition of "micro satellite", though I hate the abuse of the scaling unit.

This is all very speculative, of course, and the thinsats that get launched will be very different from our early designs.

See the server sky website for more. Pretty chaotic right now. I use it as a public notebook, slowly improving the content as we learn new things, attempting to establish all this as public domain and attract informed discussion. While most readers will be highly skeptical until experiments get launched, non-analytical skepticism merely keeps competitors befuddled, giving us a head start. Folks with imagination, who can do research and the math and physics, have the opinions we care about.

Cubesat companies are hogwash (5, Informative)

wakeboarder (2695839) | about a year ago | (#42345109)

Having been on a team that has built and launched two cubesats, I consider myself somewhat of an expert in the area. I'll answer this question to the best of my knowledge, I've been to the cubesat conference for several years now (it's mostly academics but most of the launch companies are there.) The first couple of years as a student I would get all excited whenever companies like this would start up. I noticed quickly that the same company never came around to the conference more than a few years, why? Because they couldn't get the funding, a launch requires some where in the range of 10$ million. There are plenty of companies that start up and claim that they will launch a rocket with a 50-100 (or so cubesats) and that will cover there costs, the problem is they have to find that many people to fill the spots. No one has done that yet. Cubesats were designed as a containerized system to mitigate the testing and integration launch costs. Everything that goes to space has to be thoroughly tested, when you have to do this on a case by case basis, it takes a lot of time (=money). So if you already know your payload will fit in a 10cm x 10cm x 10cm (1U) and has a ~1kg weight then that saves a lot of testing. Another benefit of the container is NASA can slap them all over their rockets and launch 10's of them (currently) at a time. Since every rocket has tons of payload margin (you want to ensure your payload reaches space you size its mass several percent smaller than what the rocket can handle to ensure delivery) and some payloads are in the tons, throwing on a few cubsats won't really do a thing to your mass budget. Now NASA has a program for this: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/smallsats/elana/index.html [nasa.gov] this has been successful. As far as launching your own, I wouldn't count on it in the near future. Launching a satellite is not trivial, you have to make sure its not going to break apart, or damage other payloads on the way out of its container. Look up ISBN: 047075012X . You have to make sure its not going to outgass because volatile compounds evaporate and can cause problems. You have to use materials that can withstand the rigors of space, atomic oxygen and radiation can be rough on most materials. Plus some materials like PVC will evaporate in a vacuum. Another problem is ensuring you have enough battery and solar power to support your payload. You have to make sure you payload will not shake apart on the way up (rockets are very very bumpy rides). The satellite should have an attributed and control system to make sure it can orient itself in the right direction (for your solar cells and radio). And last but not least is the radio and comm system. A ground station is needed and the appropriate radio frequencies used (if you want anything fast you have to get a license from the gov, this is very difficult). The satellite itself needs to have a good antenna (if you have any nulls in your antenna pattern then you won't be able to communicate with it when the null is pointed at you. Oh, and if you put a camera on it the NOAA has to know about it and approve of your data (really stupid, but that's the way the government is). Anyway I could go on for a long time... Building a satellite requires people from many different disciplines to pull it off. Unless you are going for insanely simple you would have to have a group of people to accomplish the task. If there is available access and launch costs come down I could see a few hobbyists groups pulling it off in 10 or so years if they can clear all of the governmental hoops. I won't believe any commercial venture claiming that they will launch cubesats (or tubesats http://interorbital.com/TubeSat_1.htm [interorbital.com] ) until they actually do.

Re:Cubesat companies are hogwash (1)

Dishwasha (125561) | about a year ago | (#42345457)

A fantastic, knowledgeable, and extensive response to my question. Thank you for all the fair warning.

Re:Cubesat companies are hogwash (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42346077)

I've also been working on a launched CubeSat project

As parent says - there are LOTS of small little details you have to pay attention to. You can just buy most of the components - space certified and all. But then you need special facilities (and experienced people) to assemble everything (cleanroom, vacuum chamber) and test it (heat cycles, vibrations, etc.). You need a ground station, or better cooperating ground stations. You need a radio license for the given frequency. You have to deal with lots of paperwork. And of course, you have to get a ride, which is easier if you are a university. We flew on-board Vega maiden flight - read it as "high-risk flight that nobody serious wants to risk his precious sat on" (^_^)

BTW >> PW-Sat originally had a stabilization system, but the project was altered and this system didn't fly. As it turned out, it wasn't needed and would interferfe with the payload.
BTW 2 >> PW-Sat mission is not 100% success (we had some issues with batteries and communications (solar flare didn't help)), but it was the first polish satellite and we learnt a lot from our mistakes.

Join a group (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42345207)

Don't try to do it by yourself even if you have the ability. Even if you can accomplish it, it is much better to work with others. It is one of the things I like about building satellites and being involved in space in general. You learn a lot that way. Working with others will also show you new things and you could develop interest in new areas of engineering applied to space that you might not be aware of at the moment. Or that you didn't think you'll ever be interested in.

Join Amsat - Amsat-NA, Amsat-UK, whatever country you're in - or not - doesn't matter:

Find out what groups there are within Amsat and start talking to people. Plenty of projects. The way things are going now, chances are that a college or university near you is building at least a cubesat. Find out if you can get involved there. If you have lots of technical experience, they might even want you to give guidance to other members of the team - now you're really contributing.

You don't have to be a radio amateur. You don't have to become a radio amateur. Satellites cover most fields of engineering (if not all of them!), so there will be something you can do.

If you are a radio amateur, your station might even be used as the control station for a satellite, again cooperating with people from all over.

And enjoy it, otherwise it just becomes another job!

Korea (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42346747)

Looks like the North Korean's are asking help on slashdot.

Ask the AmSat Guys! (1)

furry_wookie (8361) | about a year ago | (#42347875)

As the AmSat Guys, they have huge amounts of experience building micro satellites (and deploying them).


University Nanosats (2)

riboch (1551783) | about a year ago | (#42348659)

Professor James Cutler: http://aerospace.engin.umich.edu/people/faculty/cutler/index.html [umich.edu]
RAX: http://rax.engin.umich.edu/ [umich.edu]

Prof. Cutler works on novel nanosats and how to streamline the nanosat process. He will probably push you off to his students, but I am sure they can point you in a better direction, what sort of commerical off the shelf (COTS) parts you can get and applicable restrictions.

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