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    The $8K TubeSat DIY Satellite
    By Alex "Sandy" Antunes | August 4th 2009 01:10 AM | 18 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    What would you do with 3/4 of a kilogram of gear in space? For the price of a Harley-Davidson Sportster 883, you can now go to space.

    InterOrbital Systems (IOS) has announced their TubeSat Personal Satellite Kit. This is 'complete', giving you the basic interface bus for your payload and including the launch costs.

    If I were a salesman, I'd point out that launches alone typically cost five times that price!

    The previous low-access route to space was the CubeSat, which is still an active and viable program. TubeSat just adds competition, which can only be good. IOS even mentions "the new IOS TubeSat PS Kit is the low-cost alternative to the CubeSat."

    CubeSat is actually a published standard specification, not a brand. You can browse the spec yourself-- and news about projects-- at the CubeSat site at California Polytechnic. Various academia and institutions produce them, as well as contractors such as Boeing and Tethers Unltd. Citing a useful space.com CubeSat article, a typical price for construction and launch starts at $65K, but bear in mind $40K of that is just for launch.

    A CubeSat is 10x10x10 cm, and like computer rack mounted gear, they can be larger in 10cm increments. A '1U' CubeSat is 10x10x10, a '2U' CubeStat is 20x10x10, and so on. Since CubeSat is just a specification, a rocket group might want a starting point to build one. One source for a kit-- sans power, communications, and the actual experiment-- has rigs for under $2K. Slap in an experiment and program it up, and you're ready to fly. Toss in some Ham radio gear, and you can even get your results.

    The radio part is required for TubeSats. While some CubeSat are piggybacked onto larger missions and can either share bandwidth or be recovered, TubeSats by design are stand-alone and disposable. In a humorous turn, IOS takes what I'll call an eco-friendly approach:  Since the TubeSats are placed into self-decaying orbits 310 kilometers (192 miles) above the Earth's surface, they do not contribute to any long-term build-up of orbital debris. After a few weeks of operation, they will safely re-enter the atmosphere and burn-up. TubeSats are designed to be orbit friendly.

    Best of all, the price of the TubeSat kit actually includes the price of a launch into Low-Earth-Orbit on an IOS NEPTUNE 30 launch vehicle. This part is tremendously important, for reasons I'll get to. IOS reports "Launches are expected to begin in the fourth quarter of 2010." You get a launch date once you pay the full sum. At these prices, I recommend buying two!

    IOS's sell sheet has this list of potential missions:

    • Earth-from-space video imaging

    • Earth magnetic field measurement

    • Satellite orientation detection (horizon sensor, gyros, accelerometers, etc.)

    • Orbital environment measurements (temperature, pressure, radiation, etc.)

    • On-orbit hardware and software component testing (microprocessors, etc.)

    • Tracking migratory animals from orbit

    • Testing satellite stabilization methods

    • Biological experiments

    • On-orbit advertising

    • Private e-mail

    To this, I could add 'ship your ashes into space', but Memorial Space Flights already can do that for $1k, so save your money if that's your plan.
    TubeSat promo picture
    What I find exciting about the unproven TubeSats is that they are a nearly complete package that includes launch. The time savings in having to arrange launches alone means this package is open to individual citizens, who don't need to know the process of hiring a rocket. It's as close to an end-to-end solution as a lone mad scientist might want.

    And, I like their launch method. Your TubeSat gets loaded into one of the 32 "Satellite Ejection Cylinders", then once in orbit, they get released. It's like a giant 32-chambered revolver in space, spitting out satellites.

    I have no idea what to do with one, but I want one anyway.

    Alex, the daytime astronomer

    The Daytime Astronomer, Tues&Fri here, via RSS feed, and twitter @skyday


    Connor Davidson
    Sonds like expensive fun.

    I like the idea of space becoming more accesable to John Smith or Joe Bloggs
    I like the idea of space becoming more accesable to John Smith or Joe Bloggs
    I agree.  Over on facebook, a friend of mine wants to buy one to transmit farting noises from space.  Pay to have your own fart sounds beamed to earth from a satellite!  I think it's a stupid idea, but I applaud the fact that he can actually make his stupid idea happen.  I may even chip in because, you know, helping fly the farting satellite is way cooler than never flying a satellite at all.
    There is a Cubesat Forum (see the link) that helps people (especially students) to build cubesats (small satellites), at no cost. No need to buy expensive DIY kits. Also, do not be fooled by InterOrbital 8000$ TubeSat, launch included, kit.
    Beside the fact that the idea of TubeSat is bad (a cubesat being easier and cheaper to be built) launch costs are around $ 100 000 per 1 kg cubesat. There is no way somebody can launch a satellite at a cost of $8000.
    InterOrbital tries to sell you a 200$ crap (the TubeSat) at a price of $8000. The launch of InterOrbital Rocket, also a non viable concept, will be delayed forever. Your $8000 TubeSat will never fly into orbit. InterOrbitals is a company of swindlers.


    Am I the only one wondering how a 10mW transeiver (its the 433 MHz version) that according to the specs has a range of about one kilometer suddenly can be used to comminicate from space at a traveling speed of about 7.600 km/hour (minus your relative speed due to earth rotation) in an altitude of 310 km(!)
    See http://www.radiometrix.co.uk/products/tr2m.htm for specs.

    1) What could be a best paylaod intigrated on TubeSat like few examples given on your website. How about putting Camera to take pics and send it to us or sensing temperatures and sending atmospheric measurements to us. How about the cost eff of this part

    2) How to get a Qoute for ISM Band TubeSat with ISM frequency band (Microhard) option for Studnets Project to conducted at College of Telecommunications Engineering, NUST Pakistan.

    3) What will be the path of LEO orbit. Will Pakistan be able to see it for 2 hrs or not. If it is not passing over us than how will our Transceiver on earth will be able to receive the data from TubeSat. If it is received at another palce outside Pakistan than how come we get it at out place ?

    4) In the case of buliding own amatutre receivers, any idea regarding its cost frequency band extra.

    5) If we book order by July will the approx launching date and when we have to send the TUbeSat with our designed Payload

    Hi Dr. Khan,

    Some short answers:

    1) We're bandwidth limited, so a camera isn't practical for us; we will send temperature info among other measurements.  You could send up as your payload-- however, cameras that point towards Earth might require extra regulation, permission and paperwork.

    2) All TubeSat kits are the same price-- $8000 US including launch, direct from Interorbital.com.  I recently wrote about the labor cost of building it.  I'm not sure if ITAR regulations apply to Pakistan, so ask Interorbital.

    3) It's a polar orbit, so I think Pakistan may be at a low latitude.  You might want to arrange tracking and data with amateur HAM operators at higher latitudes; it's an active world community so that is reasonable.

    4) HAM receives can be bought commercial for under $400US.  And again, you can rely on a volunteer network.

    5) For any dates and delivery dates, again ask Interorbital.  If they do delay to April 2011, you would need to deliver your payload by January (I think)-- so that would give you 6 months to build and integrate a satellite.

    I hope this general information helps!

    I am getting one so that i can spy on the states, and transmit to the world .It will be called view evil united states directy on internet, .

     You need a license if you have detectors pointing at the Earth.  Might want to change the satellite name on the license application to 'fluffy bunny observation post #3'.
    Have you figured out the FCC requirements and frequency coordination yet? I've been looking into it, it looks like they will not issue the permit without adequate ground station coverage to be able to turn off any transmitters in space. And by that, I am assuming that a single site with a small handheld antenna attached to a low power HAM radio won't cut it as a proper ground station for "telecommand" purposes. I've asked IOS about this, however they remain silent on the issue. I have also asked AMSAT-NA about the requirements to obtain regulatory approval for a tubesat/cubesat project (number of ground stations, etc), but they haven't gotten back to me yet. Without the blessing of the FCC, no one is going to get a tubesat/cubesat into orbit - at least not with a radio on board.

    Good points, that's why for Calliope, I'll be using on+timer rather than always broadcasting.  Basically, to receive signal, you transmit the 'start transmitting' command to Calliope, then it broadcasts for the set time (while you're in range) then shuts down.  By definition, you can also shut it down earlier (since you're the one that sent the 'on' and are still in range), so it provides assurance that Calliope won't hog spectrum.

    Since most hams use transceivers (can receive and transmit, for non-hams reading this), it is more fair to only broadcast when someone is willing and able to receive and yet shouldn't reduce the ability to get Calliope data down.  I need to do some minor orbit calculations to figure out the optimum window (est: 10 minutes), then apply to IARU to ask to share the frequency.

    It isn't IOS's job, as launcher, to negotiate frequencies, which was one reason I got my ham license.  Somethings you just gotta do yourself.  It helps with the IARU bit to have a solid launch window, so that's one reason (among many) I haven't pushed faster on this.  When I do, I'll be sure to write about the process so others can follow!

    As for the small handheld, I'm working on that front, too, but expect I'll be relying on ham partners and allies for the bulk of contact.

    That seems like a reasonable approach to appease the regulatory gods. What I would be most concerned about (if I were you) is IOS's track record. While I certainly respect and admire their goals, a bit of research indicates that they have been trying to launch various projects since 2003 - all unsuccessfully to the best of my knowledge. A 2003 press release discussed their plans to send a teenager into orbit in 2004 - which never happened. While I certainly hope that they are successful this time with tubesats, I can't in good faith plop down the 8-15k necessary to complete a project (on a proprietary platform I might add) until the first launch goes off without a hitch. At least with the cubesat platform you have other launch options. At $8k, there's more than likely not enough profit margin to sustain operations for very long either - it's just not realistic. Nevertheless, I've been following your project with much interest - and I sincerely wish you and IOS the best of luck.

    Yes, it's a high risk project, given IOS is unproven as a launch vehicle.  But it's also a cheap project, compared with a $40K+ CubeSat.  I see a difference between sub-$10K (the "this or a motorcycle" level) and a $40K+ (significant investment).  The mission is to sonify the ionosphere, but the underlying story is "can a person of no particular skill single-handedly make a viable satellite".

    Launch is important, but not the only measure of success-- like science, the lessons learned during build and inquiry will help others, even if my own project doesn't reach orbit.

    That's not counting lLaunch fallbacks also include the ubiquitous high altitude balloon, piggyback, and a few other plans I've mused over.  But really, being high risk and speculativ is that's part of what makes it cool rocket science.

    I get what you're doing (and the underlying story) - and I think it's great.

    Assuming you get to orbit, have you thought about the effort to put together your ground station (software controlled TX to account for doppler shift, azimuth/elevation antenna trackers, etc), or are you going to rely entirely on other volunteer amatuers for comms (and will that pass muster with the FCC/IARU)? Assuming since you're a HAM and not commercial you're more than likely using the Radiometrics transceivers and 500mW amp. I would think that you're going to need an accurate ground antenna pointing system to even hope for reliable comms, depending on the rx sensitivity of the Radiometrix units, atmospheric conditions, etc.

    I'm not trying to be a know-it-all, I'm just really curious - these are the kinds of details I get hung up on. I've been teetering on the brink of starting my own project for some time, but just can't quite pull the trigger until (almost) all reasonable risk is factored out, and I know exactly what I'm in for.

    I'll shut up now and stop hijacking your blog.


    You're not hijacking, I'm loving the questions because how else am I going to figure things out?  Either I think of it beforehand, someone else raises the issue, or I wait until things blow up.  Questions are fun.  Now, if you do want to hijack this blog for your own project later, that's okay with me too.

    Yep, it's the Radiometric half-watt amp, and yes, it'll be very alt/alz/LOS sensitive.  I've likely going to kick off a kickstarter to make a better ground station, actually, but that's leaking my plans by a few weeks :)  Plus I have a friend who considers Calliope a justifiable reason to upgrade his own gear, so I'm happy to be an excuse.  Note to any hams-- internal conscience or significant other complaining that you spend too much on gear?  Tell 'em it's for SCIENCE!  Let me be your excuse!

    On your own project, to minimize risk I've suggested potential Tubesatters wait to see what happens with the first IOS launch.  I had a mission that was part of one of the early Pegasus launches (wing-launched missile converted to a satellite launcher), long and short is it failed to achieve a stable orbit.  Future Pegasus payloads had the advantage of the Pegasus team improving their design, our payload was just part of that price.  There's a world of difference between launches #1 and #2, and ideally you want to be on #5+ or on "the second successful launch in a row", from a risk perspective.  I'm on launch #1 because risk is not as big a part in my 'riddle' relative to window of opportunity, dev time frame, and 'stunt/pioneer' value.  Because, ya know, someone has to risk going first, and too often in life, I've enjoyed that role.

    if i want to go for imaging payload .. then please suggest me some cameras that can fit in tubesat ??????

    For imaging, you're facing a harsh bandwidth limit.  There are many small CCD detectors that are low power, and you can get by with minimal processing, but you will run into the issue of how much data you can downlink, especially if you use amateur band ham.  I recommend you look up SSTV, there's a good SSTV primer at the excellent w3cn site.  They also talk about how you can see SSTV images from the ISS!

    Note also that looking at the Earth (rather than observing space) requires a permit.  Finally, 'imaging' is a broad category, and choosing a detector means first defining what you are trying to see.  Imaging a star for variable star observing would want high accuracy, surveying the sky might want a wide field of view, tracking a specific object might want high cadence, et cetera.  Define the goal, and then you can choose the detector.

    Good luck!
    yes sir

    i want to know is there any space qualified cameras that can fit in tubesat ......
    if so please give the name of those ....
    and we are looking for earth images not space ..

    That's an entire column in and of itself.  I will try to cover imaging (which I am not doing with Calliope), either in a future column or in a separate eBook.