Small Satellite Conference Celebrates 25 Years

The Small Satellite Conference, held last week in Logan Utah, is the premier conference for the small satellite technology community (Proceedings).

Their twenty-fifth conference attracted big name speakers including Bruce Carlson, Director of the NRO, Robert Gold, MESSENGER Science Payload Manager for Johns Hopkins, and Robert Braun, Chief Technologist, NASA.

The CubeSat Project (list of satellites) was started by a partnership between the California Polytechnique University in San Luis Obispo and Stanford University in Palo Alto. It has since grown to become an international partnership of over 40 institutes that are developing picosatellites.

CubeSats are limited to 100x100x100mm in volume (about 4″ square), with 1000g in mass (2.2 lbs).

NASA’s Cubesat Launch Initiative makes space available as auxiliary payloads on launch vehicles. Cubesats are built by colleges and universities to explore concepts. The cost is low – about the price of a new car. Getting them into space is the trick.

A standard CubeSat is a 10 cm cube with a mass of up to 1 kg, though 2 and 3 cube satellites have been built. Developers benefit from the sharing of information within the community. Resources are generally shared between developers and by attending CubeSat workshops.

Technical sessions at the Small Satellite Conference included nanosatellite-based astronomy missions, FPGA-Based Processors for CubeSats, Compact Hyperspectrals, and small SAR (Synthetic Aperture Radar) satellites

CubeSats utilize the same physical connectors as the industry-proven PC/104 bus. PC/104 boards are 3.575 inches x 3.775 inches (90 mm x 96 mm).

The Scan Eagle (above) and the RQ-5 Hunter use a PC/104 bus so mission-specific processing boards can be plugged into a free slot.

The form factor is a bit large for hand launched UAVs, however, using PC/104.

Radisys has 5 Reasons to use COM Express (95 mm x 95 mm) over PC/104 (90 mm x 96 mm).

The Vulcan Wireless Software Defined Radio – running Android on a Cubesat – is said to be capable of downlink data rates up to 10Mbit at S-Band. Cubesat Communication Systems are based on the PC104 bus is used by many embedded computers. Lots of PC/104 boards are available.

Vulcan Wireless has flown a CubeSat radio data link, controlled by the Nexus One Android phone. The user is able to send control messages from the ground to the space vehicle from an Android application.

Their CSR-SDR (CubeSatellite Software Defined Radio) (pdf) successfully flew into space on 5/4/2010 from Space Port America in New Mexico on an Up AeroSpace Spaceloft XL.

The University of Surrey has developed STRaND-1, an Android-powered nanosatellite that will be launched into orbit in early 2012. Surrey Satellite has built and launched 34 small satellites since being founded in 1981.

With LTE-Advanced supporting inexpensive radio relays and Software Defined Radio, the possibilities for small satellite swarms to do useful work seem to be multiplying. Getting to space (inexpensively) is the hard part.

At the Oregon International Airshow this weekend I chatted with Dr. Doug Donkel of Premier Space Systems whose Nanolaunch Project hopes to make launching nanosats like Cubesat a lot cheaper and more responsive.

They work with Portland State Aerospace Society to integrate the control systems, electrical components, telemetry and camera systems.

Spath Engineering certifies the rocket motor through static testing, engineers the aircraft-rocket interface, and launch control system.

Space Engineering Group – SPG, provides the rocket motor and oversees the rocket operation. SPG is one of the world’s leaders in hybrid rocket propulsion field and has developed a unique high performance hybrid rocket technology. The non-toxic, easily handled fuel is made from a substance similar to what is used in common candles – paraffine.

A Mig-21 jet takes the rocket and its payload into near space. It’s a far cheaper way to go than something like Orbital Sciences Pegasus, slung under a Lockheed L-1011.

An F-15 Anti-Satellite weapon had a similar (but different) mission.

In other news, Seven medium to small satellites from four continents were launched into orbit Wednesday on top of a Dnepr rocket.

Two spacecraft manufactured by Surrey Satellite for Nigeria were successfully contacted after the launch via ground stations in Nigeria and the United Kingdom, according to SSTL. NigeriaSat 2 weighed approximately 600 pounds at launch, and will provide high resolution maps of Nigerian territory.

The University of Rome’s EduSat microsatellite and two U.S.-built AprizeSat asset tracking satellites, each weighing about 25 pounds, also rode the Dnepr launcher into space Wednesday. ExactEarth will take ownership of the two AprizeSat spacecraft after successful completion of in-orbit testing (pdf).

Space-based AIS is becoming a highly competitive market, with Orbcomm and Com Dev of Canada, through its exactEarth subsidiary, racing to put AIS capacity in orbit. Pathfinder and LuxSpace for Orbcomm and AprizeSat for ComDev/ExactEarth are competing for space-based AIS. Performance of AIS sensors in space is tricky, with lots of constraints, say analytical studies.

ORBCOMM was the first commercial satellite network with Automatic Identification System, a shipboard system that transmits a vessel’s identification, position and heading. ORBCOMM uses their own low-Earth-orbit satellites to provide tracking, monitoring and messaging capabilities. With the failure of all six Quick Launch satellites, however, Orbcomm will not be able to resume AIS service until the next-generation satellites launch.

Orbcomm-1 satellites make up most of the current Orbcomm constellation of about 35 minisatellites. Their next generation will incorporate AIS radios.

ExactEarth claims to be the world’s leading Satellite-based vessel monitoring service. They successfully launched two advanced AIS satellites this week to extend its exactAIS constellation and increase capacity of its global vessel monitoring service. Their COM DEV core technology is said to enable ExactEarth to filter out all but a very specific VHF portion of the signals dedicated to AIS. To achieve global AIS coverage with a latency of about 10 minutes about 30 satellites are required.

COM DEV has calculated that only three satellites are needed to provide a six hour “revisit time”. According to CEO John Keating, “If you put three satellites in polar orbits that takes 100 minutes to complete, 120 degrees apart from one another, then [due to the earth’s rotation] you can see any point on earth within six hours – you may be over the poles once every 30 minutes, but you are everywhere over the equator once every six hours.”

ExactEarth AIS satellites pass over Norway’s Svalbard Earth Station every 90 to 100 minutes. AIS tracks vessel movements in near real-time and updates every two minutes or so when near shore stations.

The International Space Station (ISS) represents an ideal platform for testing AIS receivers due to its orbit: its 400 km altitude is low enough to give a high probability of ship detection and it also passes across many of the world’s most densely populated shipping lanes. A small, polar-orbiting satellite, by contrast, can see all of the earth.

Norway’s NORAIS and Luxembourg’s LUXAIS have been used on the ISS. They were connected to an AIS antenna constructed by the ARISS (Amateur Radio on the International Space Station) community.

Microsat Systems Canada has announced that they plan to launch a new worldwide polar communications constellation system comprising of 78 microsatellites.

Their microsat network, called COMMStellation, will have a polar orbit of 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) in 6 orbital planes, with an additional 6 redundant microsatellites (1 per orbital plane). The COMMStellation will be connected to terrestrial telecommunications networks through 20 teleports located around the earth. The satellites would be launched 14 at a time, requiring only 6 rockets to launch the entire constellation.

O3b (Other Three Billion), with backing by Google, is planning a competing medium-Earth orbit (MEO) constellation at an altitude of 8,000 km (5,000 miles) addresses the backhaul market.

The Naval Research Laboratory’s TacSat-4 is scheduled to launch from the Alaska Aerospace Corporation’s Kodiak Launch Complex, September 27, 2011, aboard an Orbital Sciences Corporation Minotaur-IV+ rocket. It will be deployed into a unique, highly elliptical orbit with an apogee of 12,050 kilometers to augment current geosynchronous satellites with high latitude coverage.

Satellite Formation Flying Software was developed for the Prisma mission and utilized code from the SMART-1 satellite program.

It makes you wonder if a beam-forming CubeSat swarm, in Molniya orbit over the North Pacific, would be a cost/effective solution for Ocean Observatories.

Related DailyWireless stories include; Orbcomm’s Space-based AIS Fails, Shipboard AIS Fused with Radar, Arctic Technology, Amazon Cloud for Ocean Observatories, Tracking Roz, the Ocean Rower, Darkness for New Dawn Satellite? , Lightsquared Unfurled, Satellite with 328 ft Antenna to Launch , Geosync Spies, F.I.A. FUBAR, Advanced EHF – Wait for It, AEHF Satellite – Billion Dollar Brick?, U.S. Antisatellite Weapon to be Tested, Nuclear Powered Spacecraft, Zombie Satellite Out of Control, Satellites Collide

Posted by Sam Churchill on .

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