While I've been strangely silent, the space industry is surging ahead. I have, off the record, been told of small companies looking to invest $10s of millions into launchers, of new picosatellite designs (like Cubesat and Tubesat) being bandied about, of a possible new East Coast space port. NASA is publically funding multiple potential launch providers.
It is a very good time to be an early adopter, as I mentioned to Wes of Fluid&Reason. They're also working on a picosatellite, in their case to investigate propulsion systems. Prior picosatellites have tested coordinating small clusters of picosats. A student at Capitol College is using high altitude balloons to prototype an implementing of the loss-happy communication protocol called DTR. The Capitol "Velcrosat" team is designing an orbital debris removal system. Work is afoot.
All of these connect-- not always directly, but they connect. When I started Proejct Calliope, it was as someone who worked in space but had never _built_ a satellite. I was a researcher and had helped operate satellites, making me the equivalent of a race car driver who suddenly decides to build his own car, from scratch, at home. I knew I'd be relying on the growth of technology to help me solve engineering problems that, even fifteen years ago, would have been considered impossible for the amateur.
Now, I seem to have shifted from amateur to pro, in a very Web2.0 way. In old days, you had to have studied under and received imprimatur by a senior name in the field to even start a major task. In today's more information-driven era, you just have to actually do things-- a state I greatly prefer. I now get to write about picosatellites and advise student groups on how to tackle their own missions.
In fact, the "build your own picosatellite" book is out! At OReilly.com, you can now order our awesome DIY Satellite Platforms,
which takes what I learned bashing on my picosatellite and translates
it to easy-to-follow steps for creating your own more elegant mission.
In Heinlein's "The Menace from Earth", a student team spends months designing an entire starhip sans drive, so they'd be ready once someone invents one. Today, I feel that 'launchers' is the only missing piece that keeps more student and club groups from bringing new innovation into space concepts. Launch is the missing piece-- not as a technology, but as an affordable technology.
I'm swamped with teaching, so I may be slightly quiet on Calliope for a little while longer. However, the more I read the news, the more I think picosat/Cubesat/Tubesat launch opportunities are going to be more plentiful and cheaper in about 3-5 years. It's a good time to be an early adopter!
Building the Project Calliope home satellite to convert the ionosphere to music
State Of The Picosatellite Universe