DIY Friday: Your Own Personal Satellite




Yes, friends, you too can be a rocket scientist and orbit your own satellite. All thanks to Tubesat. The $8,000 price includes launch into LEO. The low-down, via Discovery News

The program, called TubeSat, is the brainchild of Randa and Roderick Milliron, a Mojave, Calif.-based couple who’ve been developing a bare-bones, low-cost rocket system for the past 14 years. Selling flights as a package deal with satellite-building kits is proving to be a winning combination, with more than a dozen customers signed up to fly on the debut launch early next year.

The first of four suborbital test flights is scheduled for August and there are customers for those as well.

"The acceptance and enthusiasm has been overwhelming," Randa Milliron, chief executive of Interorbital Systems, told Discovery News.

The customers include hobbyists like Alex Antunes, who is customizing his TubeSat into a device that can detect changes in the ionosphere in a digital format for musicians’ use.

"You can listen to the ionosphere and get a sense of what space is like. Space is a very interesting place and sound is one way we can display it," Antunes said.

He ordered a kit late last year. It contains the shell components for a satellite including a printed circuit board, solar cells, batteries, a combination transmitter-receiver, microcomputer, electronic components, blueprints and a structural shell that’s about the size of a one-liter bottle.

Antunes found a company in Canada that has sensors he wants, thermal and magnetic detectors that will be able to convert the dance of the ionosphere into a blueprint for music. The data will be transmitted real-time via ham radio and recorded for distribution via the Internet at no charge.

"This is a solo project," Antunes said. "It’s not as hard as it looks. It’s very much a hobbyist kind of thing."

I think that’s very cool. SatMagazine reported quite a few customers have signed on for the launch.

In addition to those already signed on, 20 additional experimental teams have reserved payload space with sales pending (satellites are added to the manifest only after full payment is made). The NEPTUNE 30 was originally designed to launch a 32-TubeSat payload, or 15 CubeSats, but the customer base began to demand CubeSat launches and double or triple TubeSat placement. To keep the costs at affordable, academically accessible levels, no more than four Cubesats will be flown on the specially priced academic launches, leaving space for 26 TubeSats to launch at the original $8,000 rate. The base price per standard TubeSat Kit, including launch, is $8,000. The cost per Cubesat launch (no kit) on a mixed manifest flight is $12,500. The price per satellite aboard an all-CubeSat NEPTUNE 30 launch will be $18,000.

Four low-altitude (15km/10mi) suborbital test launches of the NEPTUNE 30 components are scheduled throughout 2010 prior to the first orbital launch. The first three pre-orbital testflights will evaluate the performance of a single CPM and related launch systems. The last testflight will be conducted with an all-up 5-CPM NEPTUNE 30. Payload space is still available for all suborbital flights on the NEPTUNE CPM launches. Prices start at a minimum of $500/kg.

Two technologies make Interorbital Systems’ low-cost space program possible: the TubeSat and the NEPTUNE 30 Modular Rocket, both developed in-house. After studying the small satellite market for the last two years, and seeing the need for low-cost alternatives to existing small sat sources and launch options, IOS invented the TubeSat Personal Satellite (PS) Kit and offered it to the space community with a launch to orbit on the IOS NEPTUNE 30 rocket at the combined price of $8,000. Interorbital’s co-founder and CEO Randa Milliron commented, “Starting now, private ownership of a piece of space real estate is possible — and at an irresistibly affordable cost. Planet Earth has just entered the age of the Personal Satellite.”

With its low cost and flexibility of use, the TubeSat Personal Satellite Kit offers endless possibilities. What exactly can one do with one’s own spacecraft? For the general public, it’s an opportunity to send a loved-one’s ashes or mementos to orbit in a tiny private mausoleum. For tekkies, artists, scientists, or hobbyists, this is a chance to broadcast personal messages from space, track migrating animals, photograph and chronicle climate change, conduct sustained zero-G science, send private email, play a new musical release from orbit, study cosmic ray activity, space-qualify hardware, or advertise a product, company, or cause — all from one’s own orbiting platform that is tearing through space at over 17,500 miles-per-hour. 

Check out the "news" video…


 It may cost more than most DIY projects, but think of the possibilities. Think big.