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:
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/
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).
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.
Recent Blog Entries
This year, Cal Poly’s CubeSat developer’s conference will be virtual (on ZOOM) and free, but registration is required. Details available on their website: https://www.cubesatdw.org/ Please note the schedule times are in the Pacific timezone (PDT).
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 […]
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.
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 […]
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.
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/
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 […]
“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 […]
I’ve written before about the impressive range of the Norby cubesat that uses 70cm LoRa to transmit its telemetry data. Today my station received a transmission that was simultaneously received by a station in Rhode Island. Details can be found at https://fossa.apaluba.com/nodered/dashboard/packet/4b8804d4b4f7164858c295ad85f152f8417735e1
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.
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, […]
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 […]
Received my first LoRa packet from the Russian Norby cubesat using the FOSSA ground station built on the Heltec ESP32 LoRa 32 V2 board. Get software and instructions at https://github.com/G4lile0/ESP32-OLED-Fossa-GroundStation
The 2020 AMSAT Space Symposium was held via a Zoom Webinar on October 17, 2020. Complete replay available on the AMSAT YouTube channel: https://youtu.be/EHDgrI_w8hY Update on the educational cubesat simulation can be found at 4:15:00.
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 […]
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 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 […]
An interesting discussion on the use of the ISM band by LoRa from space appeared in the SatNOGS forum today. So far, it raises more questions than providing answers. https://community.libre.space/t/legality-of-ism-from-space/6782
The Cubes in Space program engages high school students and teachers from around the world to design unique experiments, that must fit into a 40mm cube, to be launched into space on a NASA sounding rocket or a high-altitude balloon. Details at https://www.cubesinspace.com/
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 […]
The Small Satellite Conference is internationally recognized as the premier conference on small satellites. Thirty-four years of conference proceedings containing a wealth of information on the past, present and future of small sats are available at https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/smallsat/
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.
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 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.