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    Space Citizen Science: Who Assumes The Risk?
    By Project Calliope | June 8th 2010 07:36 PM | 5 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Project

    Alex "Sandy" Antunes is the mastermind behind 'Project Calliope', a pico-satellite funded by Science 2.0 and being launched in 2011 by a mad scientist...

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    Time for a little space business by a citizen scientist-- an ordinary scienc-y person who just happens to be building a personal satellite in his basement.  I'm at the Space Weather Enterprise Forum today, where scientists and policy makers try to tackle space weather awareness from a real world 'money&lives' stance. On Friday I'll write it up in my main column, but for now I'm going to connect these issues with some 'Project Calliope' concerns.

    When launching a personal satellite, who will be at fault if there is trouble with the satellite?

    This is not a new issue, but it is a more pointed issue for small-stakes players like us. If the government or military launches a satellite, they can bicker internally about who is in charge, but overall it's going to be a government matter. For government-contractor interactions, there are Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) drafted to cover potential issues. Between two large corporations, lawyers can slug it out.

    This is what I call a 'frontier question'. It's only a contentious point when individuals, not government or 'East India Company'-type large corporations, start moving into a new area.

    The crux of the issue is who is the end user of the satellite-- the builder as the owner of the satellite on-orbit, or InterOrbital Systems as the launcher ('entity carrying (shipping) the the satellite out of the US to IOS' Tongan-based, US-owned launch services division')?

    Last year I reported how it ends up cheaper to not insure most satellites against loss, and just accept some losses will occur. This is because satellite insurance is really expensive. Put another way, it's cheaper to buy X satellites and let one fail, than to buy and insure X+1 satellites.

    But insuring against potential damages from a situation beyond your control, that involves your satellite? If the risk is low but the cost to insure against that risk is high, then a company can essential either gamble its existence on success, or pay for expensive insurance to cover them. Either option can render 'low budget space flight' out of the game before it begins.

    The risk of a picosatellite like ours suffering a failure that impacts someone else? Extremely low. But this is American, and someone has to assume the risk, and the liability if the extremely remote happens.  Is the hobbiest, the citizen scientist, protected by something akin to a Good Samaritan clause?

    At least we're willing to guarantee our satellite won't create zombies.


    Every Tuesday here at The Satellite Diaries , Fridays at the Daytime Astronomer


    I like the idea of a personal sattelite - but am not sure how it works

    do you have to register an orbit like bandwidth with radios?

    The HAM radio stuff is complicated to me because it's a new topic to learn.  I'm still sorting it out.  It's low power unlicensed amateur band.  From what I gather, you have to notify this one int'l org that you're going up.  The main technical requirement is to be able to turn off your transmitter if there's a reported problem (and, of course, be able to turn it back on when things are clear).  I'll be writing this up fully once I have a handle on it!

    My thoughts are: 1) design it, 2) test instrument prototypes, 3) build the satellite guts, 4) figure out radio stuff, 5) build the final instrument design, 6) program it, 7) test, 8) launch.

    Items 1 and 2 are done, I'm in the middle of 3, 4 (radio) will probably be the hardest because of the bureaucracy involved, and the rest is easy.

    What about orbital tracking? Who is responsible and monitors a "personal satellite"? And who determines the orbital trajectory of a personal satellite? How does that work, especially on an international level? With all of that space hardware up there and the danger of possible collisions, I would think that this would be a top priority.
    Good point.  Orbit trajectories etc are determined by the launch provider (IOS, in this case).   They have to go through lengthy paperwork, which fortunately we payload providers (personal or not) are spared.  Fortunately, I believe the paperwork and requirements are easier for low earth orbit satellites with short lifetimes and guanteed orbital decay.

    Thanks, Alex. : )