ArduSat-1 takes flight

ArduSat-1 and ArduSat-X have hitched a ride on the JAXA HTV-4 transfer vehicle to the International Space Station.  The H-IIB rocket carrying the the HTV-4 was launched at 2013-Aug-04 04:49:46 Japan Standard Time (JST).  (See time conversions below .)  Frankly, I did not know that there was an ArduSat-X.  I am delighted to see that the team has been able to build and launch two spacecraft instead of one.

I was fortunate enough to co-host a presentation on ArduSat about a year ago through the Small Payload Entrepreneur TechTalks co-sponsored by the Silicon Valley Space Center and the AIAA San Francisco Section.  [Here’s the meeting announcement on  NanoSatisfi: Citizen Apps in Space.]

Ardusat architectural diagram

ArduSat is designed and built by NanoSatisfi, a small start-up company whose tagline is “Affordable Access to Space” TM. (Yes, apparently that tagline is their trademark.)  ArduSat is a platform for multiple small experiments in space, packaged to the CubeSat form factor and driven by an Arduino microcontroller.  It doesn’t use Arduino boards directly because those are not designed for space, but the chip is an Arduino microcontroller.

Major funding for the project was raised on KickStarter.  A number of interesting gimmicks enticed people to bigger and bigger pledges, including a set of Science Cheerleader Trading Cards or your initial on the spacecraft.  At the $150 mark, you could steer the spacecraft and take pictures.  At $325, you could run your own custom science experiment or application for 3 days.  At $775, you could take advantage of the Advanced (rather than Standard) sensor suite on the spacecraft.

Because ArduSat is built from commercial off-the-shelf components, they were able to keep component and fabrication costs relatively low.  The life-time of the satellite on-orbit is expected to be perhaps a year, but this is anybody’s guess.  The components are going into the vacuum of space, where many typical commercial components outgas and fail soon after.  It is below the van Allen radiation belt; so they are not being exposed to the harsh radiation environment of geostationary satellites.  but some stray radiation particles may still hit, causing processor resets.  There will be severe heating and cooling of the spacecraft in 90 minute cycles.  It will be interesting to see just how long the processor and the experiments will last.

Because ArduSat is being deployed from the International Space Station, it’s orbit has a fairly good apogee.  The life-time the spacecraft will depend heavily on how low perigee gets; that is, how deeply it gets into atmospheric drag.

Within a year or two, a new generation of sensors, radios, microcontrollers, and other components will reach the commercial market.  These new components will make those on ArduSat-1 obsolete.  ArduSat-2 would be a new satellite, built with the newer components, once again at low cost.  If demand keeps up, and too many individuals or groups want to run experiments, then they may have no choice but to build more satellites and make more profit.  That would be a wonderful problem to have.

For NanoSatisfi, the launch is perhaps the easy part.  They had an engineer on-site at JAXA for integration, but the launch was really a JAXA affair. Now the real fun begins.  They will see if the spacecraft works after deployment from the ISS.  This will be the real test of whether NanoSatisfi’s technical efforts have paid off.

CubeSats and Kickstarters

Two other pioneers used Kickstarter to fund CubeSat projects.  Both are scheduled for launch next year.

  • KickSat – the original granddaddy of this genre of projects.  This project really uses a CubeSat to house and spin out hundreds of “sprites”, small picosatellites that do things like monitor the upper atmosphere.  The sprites were conceived at Cornell University.  A funding crisis on the project forced project lead Zac Manchester to look for much more creative sources.  Because the project was part of work done at Cornell, it is being manifested for launch in the NASA ELaNa program.
  • SkyCube – an offshoot of the highly successful SkySafari app for Apple iOS devices.  The project allows funders to take pictures from space or send short tweets.  After its useful lifetime, it will inflate a 10-foot reflective balloon, making it very visible and increasing atmospheric drag to de-orbit it in a few weeks.  There is a vague chance that it will launch this year on an Orbital Sciences Cygnus/Antares, which does not yet have a proven track record.  The team may instead opt to fly on the SpaceX CRS-3 mission in early 2014.

In the last few weeks, the concept of raising spacecraft funds on Kickstarter has been used by asteroid mining company Planetary Resources to push up development their Arkyd space telescope.  Doing so, they raised over $1.5 million.

Time conversion

For the time-challenged (like I sometimes am), here’s the conversion of launch time from JST to some selected timezones:

2013-Aug-04 04:49:46 JST
2013-Aug-03 19:49:46 GMT
2013-Aug-03 15:49:46 EDT
2013-Aug-03 12:49:46 PDT

NanoSatisfi has posted the HTV-4 launch video on YouTube.

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