I am often asked questions about my musical picosatellite, Project Calliope. Easy questions have concrete answers. "What are your sensors?": I-CubeX magnetic, thermal, light. "What magnetic field is expected?": ."How are you going to distribute the tracks?": as free remixable MIDI files via web.

Others are either vague or awkward. "When will the satellite be done?": obviously 'by launch'. "What will it sound like?": whatever the musician wants. "What's your downlink bandwidth?" I'm still working on the radio parts.

"I don't know yet" is a scientist's favorite phrase. It means we're in motion and doing cool stuff, with a wide open future ahead. There is no shame in admitting you don't know something. The only shame is if you stop there, if you decline the chance to explore.

Many others have built small satellites, but (to my knowledge) always as teams, and frequently as teaching exercises. I am pushing the use of COTS (commercial off-the-shelf) parts, but that too reflects a trend that is increasing in labs everywhere.

In any project, momentum is just as useful as certainty. You build on the stuff you know and, ideally, gather up colleagues or a team so that you can solve problems as the situation gets more complex.

Some might see this as ill-planned, but it's actually a good process when doing inventive work into unexplored terrain. I'm a a one-person basement music/art project designed to be operational-- not just 'it flew' but trying to deliver a useful product to a community.

In short, I have a plan, but the final details are in motion.

This is a good thing. If I had needed every answer, complete and set in stone, before beginning this project, it wouldn't be novel or cutting edge. Much of the fun of DIY (Do It Yourself) is learning to do it.

And as it happens, my approach is similar to the US Army troop leadership procedure. Theirs goes:
  1. Receive the mission.
  2. Issue the warning order.
  3. Make a tentative plan.
  4. Start necessary movement.
  5. Reconnoiter.
  6. Complete the plan.
  7. Issue the complete order.
  8. Supervise.

As noted in 'High Altitude Leadership', "the beauty of this system: you don't complete the plan until you've started the necessary movement and reconnoitered the battlefield."

I would say that I am in steps 4 and 5: completing the reconnoitering and setting the final plan. But I am also in motion, with hardware in hand and all the theory pieces lined up. It's time for the complete order and execution of the remaining items. With an expected Spring 2011 launch, and the need to deliver the satellite prior for pre-launch prep by IOS, there are still several areas to tackle.
    Physics: expected orbital conditions
  1. MIDI: Sensor calibration
  2. MIDI: Sound simulations (toyed with for NPR)
  3. PCB: Fabrication
  4. PCB: Soldering
  5. HAM: onboard electronics
  6. HAM: download needs
  7. Integration
  8. Testing
  9. Website: Musicians' tools
  10. (ongoing) Website: DIY information

So stay tuned as I knock down each remaining topic in the next few months!

Alex "Sandy" Antunes, Ph.D.
http://ProjectCalliope.com, 'Music from Space', Launching Spring 2011
Details every Tuesday here at The Satellite Diaries , Science every friday at the Daytime Astronomer