CubeSats

CubeSats are small, relatively inexpensive satellites orbiting the earth every 128 minutes at an attitude of 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles). Although the barriers to space are lowering with decreasing costs and increasing launch opportunities, getting a cubesat into orbit is still a multi-year effort costing $50,000 to $100,000 USD.

Although an aspirational goal, this is often beyond the means of most schools. However, there are strategies to start incorporating cubesats into the classroom at a fraction of the cost and time:

Cubesat Simulators
Functional, but not space-worthy cubesats provide the experiences of designing, building, programming, and deploying a cubesat. These can be built from scratch or assembled from a kit for as little as $500 USD. In addition to demonstrating cubesat functionality and principles of operation, these are also platforms for scientific experimentation that can be carried aloft by a weather balloon to explore the stratosphere, set adrift in the ocean (or lake or river) to record current and water chemistry, or mounted stationary to measure urban air quality.

For a list of currently available cubesat simulator kits, see: https://fredricraab.wordpress.com/cubesat-simulators/

Ground Stations
Currently there are hundreds of educational cubesats orbiting overhead, continuously steaming data down to earth. At any given time, several are visible in the sky over your head. The majority are transmitting data and images unencrypted on amateur radio frequencies that can be received with simple, homebuilt antennas and inexpensive software defined radios (SDRs).

SatNOGS in the Classroom

LoRa Use in CubeSats

Lab Notes: LoRa Activities and Experiments

Balloon & High Powered Rocket Launches
Cubesat simulators can be carried aloft by helium balloons or high powered rockets. Such launches subject the cubesat to forces and environmental stress similar to those a cubesat experiences during launch and in orbit.

Links to CubeSat Websites


Recent Blog Entries

Space and CubeSat Lesson Plans from The Aerospace Corporation

The Aerospace Corporation, a non-profit, federally funded research and development center committed exclusively to space enterprise, has developed resources for teaching space in the classroom including slide packages, video, student worksheets and lesson plans on a variety of topics. To view and download, visit: https://aerospace.org/stem/teacher-resources Of special interest, is their CubeSat Mission Brief. In this […]

Presenting at Satellite Educators Association Conference July 29

The Satellite Educators Association (sated.org) are STEM teachers who use real-world satellite data in their classrooms. I’ll be presenting “Classroom Activities with the AMSAT Functional CubeSat Simulator” on July 29 at their 35th annual conference in LA and on Zoom. Registration ends July 22.

11 LoRa Sats Launched on SpaceX Transport 3

SpaceX’s Transport 3 launch of 105 satellites on 13 Jan 2022 carried 11 sats using the LoRa protocol and frequencies which can be received via TinyGS ground stations. These are Fossat-2 E1 thru E6, MSQubeSat 1a & 1b, ThingSat, and SATLLA 2A & 2B. Since they were deployed at close to the same time, they […]

Spaceport Academy – Free Online Learning for Space Exploration and Technologies

Spaceport.academy is a free online learning website focusing on space exploration and space technologies. Clicking the Mind Map link reveals how the lessons are organized by track: Space Science, Biology in Space, Space Applications, Robotics, and Engineering. The Engineering track contains numerous lessons relevant to cubesats. When you register, please consider joining the QMR-KWT Space […]

V-R3x Cubesats: LoRa Mesh Networking & HAB

The NASA Smallsat Institute recently hosted a webinar describing the V-R3x cubesat mission. The video and PowerPoint slides are posted at https://www.nasa.gov/smallsat-institute/v-r3x-technology-demonstration-overview-and-lessons-learned Of special interest: the mission consists of 3 cubesats using LoRa mesh networking for communications. And NASA planned on first flying the cubesats on a high altitude balloon (HAB), but due to scheduling […]

Recently Released Material from NASA’s SSSVI

From Orbital Index: NASA’s Small Spacecraft Systems Virtual Institute recently released some handy smallsat materials, including their updated State-of-the-Art Small Spacecraft Technology 2021 document, Space Mission Design Tools page, and Small Satellite Parts On-Orbit Now (SPOON) COTS parts database.

SDR Makerspace Conference Videos Are Now Available

SDR Makerspace is an initiative of the European Space Agency and the Libre Space Foundation to support the use of Software Defined Radios for space communications, opening up space communications development to a wide variety of people, organizations and companies. Videos from their recent three day conference are now available on YouTube at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ntNa7j8v1JQ&list=PLCzrYL9QmZiSMltB0vP-u2s3Lx7TSlohn Also […]

Reminder: Free AMSAT Symposium On-line This Saturday 10/29

The AMSAT Symposium is on Zoom and YouTube this Saturday, October 30th from 9:00am CDT – 5:00pm CDT (UTC-5). Registration for members is required and is available on AMSAT’s Member Portal, launch.amsat.org. Registration is free and registered attendees will receive a digital copy of the AMSAT Symposium Proceedings, entered into the Symposium prize drawings, and […]

Registration open for Caltech Space Challenge 2022 for undergrad and grad students

The Caltech Space Challenge brings 32 talented and highly-motivated students to the Caltech campus to participate in a week-long space mission design competition (March 21-25, 2022). The participants are split into two teams and both teams work under the mentorship of experts from industry, NASA and academia to design their mission concept from scratch to […]

CTE Mission: CubeSat Flight Week Starts Tomorrow April 23

The 5 finalists in the CTE Mission: CubeSat program will fly their creations by balloons and drones starting tomorrow. Several will be livestreamed on Saturday April 24, 2021 and Wednesday April 28, 2021. On Thursday, April 29 at 5:00 pm EDT, the five will be speaking on a panel at the CubeSat Developers Conference. Details […]

Received LoRa Signal from FEES

On April 17, I received my first signal from the FEES cubesat on my TinyGS station. FEES is a unique 1/3 unit cubesat with an SDR transceiver that transmits using different modulation protocols: LoRa and FSK9k6, SSTV and DVB-S. It also uses the IRIDIUM network for direct communications of telemetry and commands. Info about FEES […]

Wooden CubeSat Planned for Rocketlab Launch

ArsTechnica recently published an article describing WOODSAT, a cubesat with plywood sides, to be launched later this year by Rocketlab. The design is based on the Kitsat educational cubesat simulator. Of special interest to the amateur community, Kitsat and WOODSAT, uses 433MHz LoRa and should be receivable by the TinyGS network.

Received LoRa Signal from SDSAT

Since October 2020, I’ve operated a TinySG LoRa ground station to receive telemetry data from the Russian cubesat Norbi. With the latest software upgrade, TinyGS stations can now received signals from other recently launched LoRa cubesats. The Satish Dhawan Satellite (SDSAT), is a 3U cubesat that contains a 100mW LoRa transmitter to demonstrate the feasibility […]

Received Norby QSL Card

Today I received a QSL card acknowledging my reception and uploading of data from the Russian cubesat Norby. QSL refers to the Q Code used by amateur radio operators worldwide meaning “acknowledging receipt”. Cubesat operators sometimes issue QSL cards to early receivers of their signals as an incentive to search and monitor those signals.

Prototype Flight Software and TTN Application for AmbaSat

I now have Michael Kamprath’s excellent flight software running on my AmbaSat and communicating with my US gateway. I’ve also created a TTN application using his code to decode the data packets. Creating an application can be somewhat daunting if you haven’t done it before. I’ve documented the procedure here:  https://fredricraab.wordpress.com/creating-a-ttn-application-for-ambisat/

The Importance of Amateur Ground Station Networks

In addition to SatNOGS (which tracks 100’s of sats), I operate a LoRa ground station tracking only 1 or 2 sats. I sometimes wonder if it’s worthwhile dedicating $400 USD of hardware to an effort returning 1 or 2 packets a day. The post below convinced me otherwise. For the cubesat operators, our networks are […]

Finalists in CTE: CubeSat Challenge Announced Today

“What impressed us most about the mission proposals was students’ enthusiasm to take on complex and ambitious projects — many of which focused on issues similar to what our national space missions are currently tackling.”—    Scott Stump, Assistant Secretary for Career, Technical, and Adult Education at the U.S. Department of Education Scott Stump’s quote says it […]

Impressive Range of LoRa Signals from Norby Cubesat

I mapped the position of the Norby cubesat for observations I received over the past 5 days. Norby uses 70cm LoRa for its telemetry data and the range is impressive. The red icon is my station’s location. Observations received from an omni-directional quadhelix mounted on the roof.

Technical Presentation on EIRSAT-1 Cubesat Available on YouTube

The EIRSAT-1 CubeSat, built by students at University College Dublinis due for launch on the Vega rocket in early 2021. David Murphy,EI9HWB and Fergal Marshall of the EIRSAT-1 team gave a comprehensivetechnical run-through of the satellite’s payload, subsystems andonboard communications.  You can watch the entire video presentationat:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jrwyb2rDYBs From an amateur radio and hobbyist point-of-view, […]

Use of Elk antenna with LoRa cubesats

Attempting to receive LoRa signals from new cubesats using Elk antenna pointed to the East. Received packets from Norby while it was over Marfa, Texas – 900+ miles away. Typically can only receive Norby packets with a quadhelix antenna while the cubesat is closet over western Arizona. Nov 15, 2020 Since writing this post, I […]

Decoding LoRa Cubesats

Scott Chapman, K4KDR, @scott23192 & Bob Mattaliano, N6RFM, @n6rfm have recently posted on Twitter details of their success in receiving and decoding LoRa 70cm signals from the NORBY (aka NORBI) cubesat. Fossa Systems has posted code for their Arduino ground station on Github: https://github.com/FOSSASystems/FOSSASAT-1B/blob/master/software/manual_test/GroundStation/GroundStation.ino G4lile0 posted code for a ground station using the Heltec ESP32 […]

94 CTE Mission CubeSat proposals received

When submissions closed on October 16, CTE Mission: CubeSat had received 94 mission proposals from schools across the United States. The teams proposed a range of thought-provoking CubeSat projects, such as tracking changes to Earth’s magnetic field, assessing the environmental impact of pandemic lockdowns, and studying space debris. During two CTE webcasts, Robert Twiggs, co-inventor […]

Microsoft Debuts Ground Station Solution Azure Orbital

Microsoft is getting into the satellite ground station business with Azure Orbital. Microsoft announced a preview of the offering, a ground station service that allows satellite operators to communicate to and control their satellites, process data, and scale operations directly with Microsoft Azure. Although targeted at commercial satellite companies, the service may provide experimental and […]

2020 Virtual AMSAT Space Symposium – Saturday Oct 17

The 2020 Virtual AMSAT Space Symposium and Annual General Meeting will be held on Saturday, October 17th from 9:00am CDT – 5:00pm CDT (UTC -5). Symposium presentations will be a combination of pre-recorded video segments along with a question and answer sessions held via a Zoom meeting. The Symposium will be made available for free […]

New US Dept of Education Program

The US Department of Education announced a new education program that invites high school students to design and build CubeSat prototypes. Details can be found here: https://www.ctemissioncubesat.com/ A virtual information session was held on September 1, 2020. Zoom recording available on their website.

XinaBox – Modular Components

One of the sponsors of the CTE Mission CubeSat challenge is XinaBox.cc. They developed a unique system of arduino based components, sensors and radios for the STEM/STEAM market. The components “snap” together forming a rigid stable platform for experimentation. Their system is much faster to assemble than traditional breadboarding or even 4-wire systems such as […]

SatNOGS

SatNOGS is a global network of satellite earth stations operated by hobbyists and space enthusiasts. You can build your own station with a Raspberry Pi, RTL-SDR and a homemade antenna. I’m operating stations in La Jolla, CA and Palm Desert, CA.

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