An Australian makes his homemade satellite
Published 6 July 2015 by Nicolas Barrial
Stuart McAndrew made a satellite without any particular spatial knowledge. OzQube-1 is from the picosatellite family that one learns to design at university. His initiative paves the maker’s way towards the stars.
When Stuart McAndrew began to build his satellite in his Australian garden, the famous Anglo-Saxon backyard, he did not expect to become a small national celebrity. An article in a local newspaper was sufficient to fast-track him onto the famous scientific website Phys.org. Stuart thinks it if fun but is counting on taking advantage of the limelight to drive his activity to the stars.
His satellite, OzQube-1, the size of a Rubik’s Cube, belongs the picosatellite category, the Cubesats developed in 1999 by Bob Twiggs from Stanford University, the design of which is essentially linked to educational programs. These nano-satellites are then deployed into space for the first in class by Nasa, ESA or still CNES (Janus) and are destroyed in less than three weeks when entering the atmosphere.
Stuart McAndrew, is just a system engineer with a dream. He wanted to take photos of Australia from space…
The website DiY Space Exploration explains how Cubesats can be used for all kind of tasks.
What are Cubesats used for? DIY Space Exploration, 2014:
Stuart McAndrew discovers in 2013 the adventure of a Scottish company that just obtained funds for its launch on Kickstarter. Pocketqube Shop offers a new class of picosatellites, even smaller than the existing CubeSats: 5cm instead of 10. The company couples them with a launch program considerably less costly than anything else that exists.
“Fablabs could be the breeding-ground for the next generation of satellite engineers.”
Tom Walkinshaw, Pocketqube Shop
The Australian, however, does not buy the kit, offered at 3,000 euro. He thinks on the opposite that “building a satellite was the only way to acquire the knowledge and demonstrate that it was possible for someone who did not have access to university or government resources.” He then gets hold of each of the pieces and documents his research.
Stuart discovers that all the components are available on the market and that the required knowledge is quite close, i.e. no more complicated than the knowledge required to use an Arduino microcontroller. The brain of the OzQube-1, called CDH (Command and Data Handling), is thus a microcontrolleur that looks like the Pro Mini 3.3V. Arduino.
“Future satellites will possibly use a different architecture but I wanted the OzQube-1 to remain something with which people were familiar.”
The @OzQube1 Command and Data Handling (CDH) module contains an @Atmel ATmega328P microcontroller + more #pocketqube pic.twitter.com/MGWJ1PKjTo— OzQube-1 (@OzQube1) July 1, 2015
The satellite also includes an SD card to stock the pictures from the camera and telemetric data. A 9 axis movement sensor, found at Invensense,measures the orientation of the satellite and the strength of the terrestrial magnetic field.
If you were wondering why my circuit board has a hole in the middle, here's the camera lens that fits through it! pic.twitter.com/8HA5CMGRIs— OzQube-1 (@OzQube1) February 3, 2015
Stuart also launched into the design of a low cost radio transmitter from a Silicon Labs Si4463, card that he presented to the Hackaday platform.
#Satellite Week: QubeCast Max is a high powered radio communications board #PQ60 @ozqube1 http://t.co/9qMNdexKSf pic.twitter.com/AoJPLQUAu0— hackaday.io (@hackadayio) February 19, 2015
Another important piece is the RTC (Real Time Clock), a clock more precise than the microcontroller that uses less energy. Finally, with regards to energy, the EPS (Electrical Power System) card contains 4 canals for solar panels, a Li-ion battery, a separate battery and 3.3V rails.
First proper solar panel for @OzQube1 done in a skillet! At least it's non-stick... pic.twitter.com/CuSKwkni4c— OzQube-1 (@OzQube1) May 11, 2015
The cost of the launch into orbit: a dream killer?
This type of satellite is aimed to be deployed at an altitude of between 150km and 600km, the area where ISS and a number of scientific satellites are found. Even if the design of the OzQube-1 cost Stuart less than 1,000 euro, to which one needs to add several thousand euro for resistance tests (vibration, temperature, etc.), he cannot afford the launch into orbit.
For 15,000 euro, the Scots of PocketQube Shop would find him a small place on the Unisat7 satellite. And still, it would be at a special price, PocketQube Shop having revealed to us a cost of 25,000 euro per flight. The Australian is counting on appealing to crowd funding to pay for his place on Unisat7 that should be launched into orbit in 2016.
Within the last ten years, the democratisation of satellite launches has accelerated. A launch used to cost the price of a house, then that of a car and we are approaching the price of a motorbike. The Californians from InterOrbital thus offered an alternative at around 8,000 euro… on a rocket still in the development phase. This announcement obviously arose new vocations.
The other way of bringing costs down is to miniaturise even more. It is the objective of the Kicksat project, New-Yorkers who propose to launch chip-satellites from a Cubesat. Are you following? NASA does because it is offering them a place on one of their next launchers..
DIY is more and more present in space. The Texans from Ardulab want to “create a community of hackers of spatial hardware” by proposing to build small arduino labs to conduct micro-gravity experiences aboard ISS.
“The more projects there will be, the more prices will go down”, assures logically Stuart McAndrew. In the end, Arduinos are not the only items from labs that could contribute to reduce the costs of launching.
Students Aim for Space with 3D-Printed Rocket Engine http://t.co/3ZvFzQ10DS pic.twitter.com/SUtkUoUejJ— SPACE.com (@SPACEdotcom) July 2, 2015
To know more about Stuart McAndrew’s picosatellite