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Jon Oxer Talks About the ArduSats That are On the Way to ISS (Video)

Roblimo posted about 9 months ago | from the they-sang-the-hit-song-'hitching-a-ride'-all-the-way-into-space dept.

Space 17

Two ArduSats were launched last week from Japan, along with an ISS resupply package, and on August 9 this payload is due to arrive at the International Space Station. Jon Oxer is a co-founder of Freetronics, a company that sells Arduino-based products, so he has a vested interest in ArduSat's success. He's also a major Free Software booster, which may be part of the reason he was at OSCON -- where Timothy Lord and his camcorder caught up with him. BTW: This is the same JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) launch that is carrying the first talking humanoid robot to go into space from Earth. So this launch is not only "a giant leap for robots," as Japanese robot Mirata famously said, but is also a good-sized step for Arduinos. And for CubeSats, too.

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17 comments

A better explanation of this... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44512165)

Is included in this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K0ZRAmz-NWM

70 second advertisement???? (1)

Nutria (679911) | about 9 months ago | (#44512607)

No fscking way am I going to sit through that to watch -- if the past indicates the future -- a lame interview.

Re:70 second advertisement???? (2)

stormboy (1691754) | about 8 months ago | (#44516003)

As for advertising, the only thing promoting his company, Freetronics, is the small logo on his shirt and a quick question from the interviewer about the availability of hardware to which Jon said "yes". The rest is about the tech and advancing open-source hardware and software in the satellite space. You are judging without watching? Unless you regard every story about a project as "advertising".

Re:70 second advertisement???? (1)

Nutria (679911) | about 8 months ago | (#44516137)

Eh? When I tried to watch, there was a 70 second YouTube-style advertisement, but without the ability to skip after 5 seconds.

Missed opportunity? (3, Insightful)

time961 (618278) | about 9 months ago | (#44512713)

Arduinos make somewhat more sense than phonesats [phonesat.org] (Really? We're sending a touch-screen and graphics controller into low earth orbit? Because the boss couldn’t think of any sillier project and had a spare $100K for launch costs?).

But it's hard to understand why a 17-wide parallel configuration of 8-bit microprocessors each having just 2.5KB of RAM makes for a sensible satellite payload processor. Why not something with an architecture more like a Raspberry Pi or BeagleBoard? Not those specific boards necessarily, but a similar, simple one-chip SoC approach and a decent amount of memory. A processor like that could drive a bunch of experiments (more than you can fit in a Cubesat), and have enough room for the software to be comfortable and maybe even maintainable on-orbit.

A SoC-based system would fit in the same low cost profile but could run much more interesting applications. Ardusat feels like a missed opportunity, because it has lots of other things going for it: open source, submission process, international coalition, hobbyist/student focus, etc.

Re:Missed opportunity? (1)

paskie (539112) | about 8 months ago | (#44514627)

Simple microprocessors like this have an advantage of having large gates and therefore being more resistant to cosmic radiation. I'm actually pretty curious about how big the effect of this would be when jumping up to ARM Cortex-M3 and then to ARM11. Surely state-of-art cosmic technology uses more advanced CPUs than ATMega328, is it fine to just pop it in a better case, or is the effect not so strong in practice?

Regardless, AIUI, with something like ATMega328, you don't really need to worry much, maybe have a simple failover. With ARM11 running a big OS like Linux, the situation could be much more complicated.

Re:Missed opportunity? (1)

time961 (618278) | about 8 months ago | (#44518535)

You might think that larger gates are an inherent advantage, but it's not that simple. To a modest extent, the advantage is there, but the counter-effect is strong, also: smaller gates have that much less cross-section in which a particle hit can deposit charge or cause damage. In practice, radiation tolerance is much more dependent on a bunch of other process characteristics, and it is very difficult to predict.

Failover is rarely "simple". There's a lot of code and mechanism, somewhere, to decide when a failure has occurred, determine the kind of failure, apply applicable recovery procedures, and restore what context can be restored and resume. This is a lot easier to do when you're not also trying to fit in 32KB of flash.

Space computing is very conservative. It is astonishing how much has been accomplished with such simple processors. But advances in the semiconductor art beg to be used, and projects like this could help light the way if not hamstrung by limited architectural choices.

How it works and what it is (1)

TheModelEskimo (968202) | about 9 months ago | (#44513423)

I had to search around. Here's a bit that's kind of buried on the Kickstarter site:

Through our web-interface you can then upload your code to our exact replica of the satellite on the ground and make sure that it works as intended. Once youâ(TM)ve worked out any bugs in your experiment (not that you would ever have any...) we will run a final test before it is uploaded into space to ArduSat. Now your code is running in space, steering the satellite and gathering data! Once the time you have booked on ArduSat is expired, we will send back the data to you via the internet.

That seems pretty cool. No wonder so many people are signing up to participate (just looking at their participation page).

What about export controls (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44513867)

Software that controls a spacecraft, no matter how small or simple, is controlled under ITAR. There may be some folks in For a rude surprise shortly

Skeptical about radiation performance (3, Interesting)

werepants (1912634) | about 9 months ago | (#44513833)

I really have to wonder if they've done any sort of radiation qualification on this thing. It isn't as though it will be running critical, multimillion dollar hardware or anything, but still, you're asking for trouble if you're putting rad-soft parts up there. At best you're going to have random bugs and suspect data from bit upsets, at worst you're going to brick your entire system when you get latchup or a functional interrupt that you aren't able to mitigate. Maybe they're tackling it with redundancy - I see that they have 17 Arduinos, so they can just shut one down if it degrades too much, but if your control hardware isn't rad-hard then it doesn't matter - weakest link and all that.

I have put an Arduino in space, btw, but only on a suborbital flight lasting about 20 minutes. Also, for what it's worth, IAAREE (I am a radiation effects engineer).

Re:Skeptical about radiation performance (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44514213)

Though it's not exactly the same as space, some Atmel parts have been qualified for use at the LHC. They simulated the flux at the most radiation heavy part of the experiment they expected to use these parts at. The result was that it would be almost okay over the lifetime of the experiment (when using a conservative safety factor). It was something like 5 Gy.

Re:Skeptical about radiation performance (2)

jonoxer (547509) | about 8 months ago | (#44516407)

Using regular industrial-rated parts is standard for CubeSats in LEO, where radiation is far less of a problem than many people seem to think. The orbit is only about 350km altitude, well below the Van Allen belts, and with a mission duration of about 6 months it's not worth using parts that are vastly more expensive. For the small variation in failure probability, it makes far more sense to put up multiple ArduSats using regular parts than to put up a single ArduSat with rad-hardened parts for the same price. The plan is that nanosatisfi will launch up to 150 ArduSats over the next 5 years, and there are bound to be failures along the way but overall the cost:failure ratio works out much better with regular industrial parts. Common consumer-grade electronics such as cameras and laptop computers has been in use on the ISS for many years. Thermal management and power management are much bigger challenges for CubeSats than the relatively minor radiation they encounter.

Re:Skeptical about radiation performance (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#44517895)

Furthermore, using 'old' CPU's has a big advantage that they use relatively large transistors, furhter reducing the risk of radiation induced problems.

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