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Space Technology

Build Your Own Linux-Based Satellite 184

An anonymous reader writes "For $10 million, SpaceDev is offering a Linux-based microsatellite that can be controlled over the internet using any laptop or desktop computer. The Modular Microsat Bus utilizes such things as plug and play USB, Ethernet, and other standards, while providing critical features such as power, maneuvering, and communication for you. Up to 40 kg of project space are at your disposal"
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Build Your Own Linux-Based Satellite

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  • by robertjw (728654) on Monday November 07, 2005 @02:10PM (#13971920) Homepage
    At that price I'll take two, they're small.
  • FP (Score:3, Funny)

    by khedron the jester (888418) on Monday November 07, 2005 @02:11PM (#13971936)
    Apparently you launch it by throwing it really, really hard.
  • by Saint Aardvark (159009) * on Monday November 07, 2005 @02:11PM (#13971941) Homepage Journal
    This is cool...but 'way out of my league. For those that have got $10 million to spare, have fun. What I'd like is a picosatellite []o coop.

    These students [] got theirs into space for $120,000. Sure, that doesn't include "donated material, equipment and expertise", or the estimated $40,000 launch cost [], but let's be optimistic and call it $250,000 all told. Well, get 50 people in and it's only $5000 each -- less than a good used car. Make it 500 people and you've got the cost down to less than a trip for two to Vegas. And for this I get to help send a satellite running Linux into space -- as close as I'm likely to come to making the trip myself.

    I know that ham radio folks are already doing this sort of thing, but they've got their own goals. I admit, mine are a bit fuzzy beyond "put this L33+ satellite into space", but that's kind of appealing too. What could we cram on a picosatellite? What imaging can you do for cheap -- what resolution, what wavelengths? And of course, the question everyone wants answered: Can you host a webserver in space, and could it survive a Slashdotting?

    I think something like this would be cool beyond measure. Who's in?

    • Problem is downlink (Score:5, Informative)

      by everphilski (877346) on Monday November 07, 2005 @02:15PM (#13971994) Journal
      Even on an oblique overhead pass, in low earth orbit maximum time in view is about 7 minutes. The article doesn't mention using a satellite relay network but of course... such things cost extra :)

    • by networkBoy (774728) on Monday November 07, 2005 @02:17PM (#13972013) Homepage Journal
      I think that the picosats are cool, but there is not a ton that you can do in such a small package. A small transponder, some radiation experiments, no reasonable optics will fit in that tight a package, and even if they did you would need to accomodate stabilizing gear.
      That said, they are great for universities, where the resulting knowledge gained is the goal and the useful science is almost gravy.

      As to the /.ing, I think the sat would have no problem, due to the rather low speed of the anticipated link (no dish, just a whip antenna, so BW will bw lower). Whether the page will be viewable with a million geeks trying to share a 10kbps link, I dunno.
    • It does not have to just be l337 becuase it's got nix on it, make it be your uplink to the newest versin of IP, the Interplanetary Protocol [ net%5D []
    • Who would pay $500 for a 0.2$ stake in a tiny satellite?
    • by salad_fingers (908746) on Monday November 07, 2005 @03:53PM (#13973027)
      I am a member of a team building a pico satellite at the University of California. The actual price for our entire project hovers around $50,000, of which 40k go to launch costs. This is the price tag for a Russian launch, I am sure the US would charge quite a bit more. The problem with these pico satellites is actually integrating a full fledged OS onto OTS parts. Data memory and program memory are in limited supply, along the lines of KB. We are using an Atmel CPU and are running AVR library from the [] website. The actual module we are writing is for the CPU scheduler. The interupt handler, bus protocols, etc are already written. Running this minimal amount of code is beneficial and doesnt overload the small amount of data memory we can utilize, so basically you can run less than a full on OS like linux and still get away with it.

      "What imaging can you do for cheap -- what resolution, what wavelengths?"

      The imaging comes down to the type of camera and it's power consumption. Image processing really loads the CPU and draws a lot of power, so compression algorithms are important. JPEG does the job fine, but is limited to around 320x res (in color) given our power constraints. The camera we are using is a CMOS imager, which works through the charging of capacitors relative to the intensity of incoming light. The wavelength of operation ultimately comes down to the FCC. They allocate you a bandwidth to use, most likely 2m or 440MHz. Other functions the satellite may serve is as a HAMsat, or a HAM radio repeater in space. You can tune you radio to the sat freq, and hit any place that the satellite covers with your signal. The preferred mode of operation is digital, so sat comm utilizes packet radio, which loosely resembles the TCP/IP stack. As far as a webserver goes, Im sure you could do it, but it would be limited to the length of one satellite path. Guess thats enough time for a 30 second pr0n clip...
    • I think we could do quite a bit with a pico.

      First thing that popped into my head was fitting these things with small lenses (or a good short FL Zeiss lens) and cheap CCD astroimagers.

      1. Wide to Telephoto CPU based camera lens (18-70mm).
      2. Electronic shutter for lens system protection.
      2. Cheap CCD astroimager (think Meade or something).
      3. Micro gyro. (for orientation)
      4. Micro board with embedded OS and controllers. (Flash drive for storage).
      5. Low power transciever.
      6. Small array of solar cells for power.
  • I hear that a Mr. Drax will be contacting them very soon.
  • by thewiz (24994) * on Monday November 07, 2005 @02:12PM (#13971950)
    WooHoo! Now I can get my own death ray satellite!
    World conquest, here I come!
    • by lpangelrob (714473) on Monday November 07, 2005 @02:23PM (#13972088)
      No kidding... the coverage is great, but the ping time is a drag. I went for St. Louis once but toasted some outhouse across the river because of the lag. Biggest waste of my $10M ever. I'd give the seller an F-.
    • BPS (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Hina Matsuri (909664)
      I know a lot of people here *hate* anime and anyone who likes it, but...

      Has anyone seen Battle Programmer Shirase? There was an episode where this super retardedly awesome programmer (Shirase, the main character) hacks three neglected satellites and crashes them in a line to target a boat. The first in line acted as a primary heat shield for the second two and evaporated pretty quick, the second did the same for the last, and the last plowed right into the boat in a big explosion.
  • by AKAImBatman (238306) * <<akaimbatman> <at> <>> on Monday November 07, 2005 @02:13PM (#13971959) Homepage Journal
    It's amazing what they can do with SoC's these days, isn't it? The only part I don't understand is, how are they expecting that these sats going to fly? AFAIK, NASA stopped flying PongSats on the Space Shuttle after the Challenger incident. (aka, "The Get Away Special") Are they planning to pool these sats together to pay for a booster? Or do you have to get your own? Where is that $10 million going? (For the cost of a couple of these, I could buy a Delta II and send 100-200 desktop towers into space! And that would be assuming I used Car Batteries to power them!)
    • by everphilski (877346) on Monday November 07, 2005 @02:18PM (#13972024) Journal
      multiple primary payloads...SpaceX Falcon I and Orbital Sciences Pegasus.

      (from the f*cking article)

      • Okay, I just reread the article and I think I get it now. The "Microsat" terminology had me thinking that this was for experiments and educational missions. I'm still not entirely clear on its use, but it seems that it's targetted at people with large budgets for space access. So one might send it up along with a Comsat, or send a bunch of these up *as* Comsats.
        • Comsats are the big birds of the satellite world; they are power hungry and need huge solar arrays and a huge dish pointed with great accuracy at the surface. They also need something else - geosynchronous orbit. They need to be at a static location in the sky where they can point in one direction... These satellites are aimed at the scientific and possibly educational community, although they tend to do well enough leeching off of NASA. (not a rip, an observation, having been there and done that)

          • Comsats are the big birds of the satellite world; they are power hungry and need huge solar arrays and a huge dish pointed with great accuracy at the surface. They also need something else - geosynchronous orbit.

            I was thinking more along the lines of the Iridium Constellation [] as opposed to a traditional Comsat. i.e. A network of satellites in LEO, that could move your signal from sat to sat as they pass overhead.

            Iridium wasn't all that bad of an idea, but it was a bit ahead of its time in Satellite technolo
    • Well, I had to go check, but the GAS program (along with the Shuttle Small Payloads Project) is offically gone, though they did not close up shop until 2004. The last mission flown under the SSPP, a Hitchhiker, was lost on Discovery.

      If you want cheap space access, you still might be able to get it at the followon porgram, managed out of the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. []
  • 3 Words (Score:5, Funny)

    by 19thNervousBreakdown (768619) <davec-slashdot@ l e p e> on Monday November 07, 2005 @02:13PM (#13971971) Homepage

    Orbiting brain lasers.

    • Re:3 Words (Score:3, Funny)

      by drinkypoo (153816)
      No, four words and a slogan. Orbital Mind Control Lasers: We know what's on your mind, we put it there!
      • Re:3 Words (Score:3, Funny)

        by dgatwood (11270)
        Nah. With mind control, you can get a big chunk of money from a few people with generally evil motives. With targetted advertising, you can get a big chunk of money from a LOT of people with generally evil motives.

        All you need are three lasers---one red, one green, one blue---and a moderately precise tracking system. Pick a sufficiently refractive layer transition in the atmosphere (or a cloud or whatever) and use it as what would amount to a giant projection screen. Now, you can advertise Coca-Cola i

  • by Anti_Climax (447121) on Monday November 07, 2005 @02:15PM (#13971991)
    And just in time for X-Mas too!
  • by k4_pacific (736911) <> on Monday November 07, 2005 @02:15PM (#13971997) Homepage Journal
    Unfortunately, because of its diminutive size, this satellite can only be put into orbit around a large city at best. For true Earth orbit, you need to spend real money.
  • P2P (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 07, 2005 @02:17PM (#13972015)
    I can't wait for the first P2P provider to send their network into space.

    eDonkey 2001: A Space Odyssey
  • seriously... immagine a cluster of satellites with wimax technology like the new panamsat..
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 07, 2005 @02:18PM (#13972026)
    Slap a web server on it and you've got "POOOORRN FROOOOOM SPAAAAAAAAAAACE!"
  • Obviously this isn't a normal geek toy, mostly because of the price tag, but what sort of nifty things could someone do with a satelite like this? I imagine that it's mainly geared toward University researchers, but that's just wild conjecture.

    Also, why is it so special that the satelite runs linux?
  • by spamfiltre (656000) on Monday November 07, 2005 @02:18PM (#13972034)
    With a long enough cable, I could recharge my iPod Shuffle from orbit.
  • A neat idea... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by phorm (591458) on Monday November 07, 2005 @02:19PM (#13972047) Journal
    But what would/could you do with it? I'd be very reluctant to upgrade the kernel or any such thing that would likely be required to install modules/drivers required to do something neat. Nothing would quite suck like having a 'kernel panic' on a $10,000,000 sitting up in orbit... not as if you can press reset to restart it.
    • Satellites and other space hardware tends to have watchdog reset timers that will auto-reboot to a monitor ROM. That way if anything goes wrong during kernel upgrade, it'll reboot to a known good state.
    • by grumpyman (849537) on Monday November 07, 2005 @02:39PM (#13972252)
      In that case, you may want to consider high availability solution with MS Cluster Service on Windows platform with automatic windows-update.

      ** Comes free with IE6 and WinFS Beta

    • If I was going to put a computer up in space I'd have a special BIOS on there that allowed remote console and file transfers independant of the OS. If I can think of that, I'm pretty sure a bunch of people capable of actually putting it into orbit would think of it too.

    • It's not that dangerous with proper setup. I do the same with boxes 2500 miles from myself without shedding a bead of sweat. The trick is to use 2 root partitions, upgrade the spare one, try to boot it using the grub --once option, if it fails, power off and it will revert back the old working partition. The only trick is toggling the power in the event of a panic, we control power via a network power switch, but I'm pretty sure this could be a added to the uplink interface BIOS, kind of like a two-way wake
    • You generally wouldn't upgrade the kernel on flight hardware unless there was a known bug that cropped up after launch. What you might want to upgrade after the fact is your flight code, and if that does go wrong there generally are watchdogs that detect a bad upload and flash from a known good firmware.

    • Hmmm... Ideally it would have a failsafe, either as a bootable OS in ROM or as some kind of special firmware, to allow a disk image to be written to the HD (or whatever you use in such conditions) remotely.

      Or something.
    • Ever heard of Lights Out Management? It would be pretty important for this sucker. You might even need a LOM for your LOM.
  • Thats all very good, but will it run linux?. Umm, nevermind :)
  • Great!! (Score:4, Funny)

    by jkind (922585) on Monday November 07, 2005 @02:20PM (#13972057) Homepage
    With Satellite, I can then research Composites or Fiber-Optics!! []
  • by heatdeath (217147)
    This sounds almost as revolutionary as sun's grid-computing-for-hire scheme!
  • Now we can being the slashdotting of space! We can put some radio equipment on it, and start bouncing posts off of it!

    And when we get trolls, they can suck vacuum!

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Imagine... Linux-based filesharing peers (each with gigs of cached bootleg material) floating kilometers overhead, far beyond the reach of the entertainment industry!
  • But can it direct an EMP onto the country of your choice?

    //call me Plissken.
  • For a mere $10 million, SpaceDev is offering a state of the art Linux-based microsatellite that can be controlled over the internet using any laptop or desktop computer. The Modular Microsat Bus utilizes such things as plug and play USB, Ethernet, and other standards insert more buzzwords here , while providing critical features such as power, maneuvering, and communication for you boring, boring, boring - emphasize the fun you can have with it - spying on foreign countries, planning world domination, kee
  • by DigiShaman (671371) on Monday November 07, 2005 @02:29PM (#13972153) Homepage
    Ok guys and gals, is there anything we can do at Slashdot to pool togeather some money and have one built? I'm willing to donate up to $100. I would love to see everyone donate money to have a Slashdot Sat put into space along with the names of those who contribute. Also, I would love to have access to the Sat for shits and grins.

    What can it be used for? does it matter? The fact I can access a Sat that can later be upgraded with software totally turns me on!
    • Inter-galactic gateway to our Internet for the curious aliens?
    • Well assuming that this puppy has a life span of 10 years (my research on the net suggested sats last anywhere from 5-15) then your $100 dollars contribution would only buy you about 8 hours and 40 minutes at the helm of the slashsat.

      That is assuming that everyone does not try to log on in the first few seconds and we then spend 10 years looking at 500 errors while we save up for enough money to send someone up to reboot it.
  • by digitaldc (879047) on Monday November 07, 2005 @02:30PM (#13972160)
    In case you crash this satellite into the sun or it goes hurdling off into the nearest black hole, for the meager price of an additional $1 million, an uniterrupted signal will be beamed to your laptop for the duration of its expected lifespan. No more worrying about alien sabotage or space junk punching holes in your precious device, we have got it covered.
    This way, you will never know that it has been destroyed, and you can still show off your $10 million toy to your jealous friends.
  • 'What are we going to do tonight, Brain?' 'Same thing we do every night, Pinky.'
  • by GillBates0 (664202) on Monday November 07, 2005 @02:30PM (#13972165) Homepage Journal
    bash-2.05a$ ls -al /dev/usb/satellite0
    crw-------    1 root     satellite       3,   0 Nov 07  2005 /dev/satellite

    bash-2.05a$ file /dev/usb/satellite0
    /dev/usb/satellite0: character special SpaceDev MMB-100 microsat

    bash-2.05a$ mount /dev/usb/satellite0 /mnt/launch_vehicle

    bash-2.05a$ mv /mnt/launch_vehicle /space/orbit
  • If we had to build one of these, get a really powerful wireless connection (something that would transmit from space) and hosted MP3's on one would be able to bring it down...or maybe Bush could use this as an excuse to resurect the star wars program, this time funded by sony and all the other record companies, instead of the tax payers money, it might just get off the ground. Who said that mp3's wouldnt make the world a better place?
  • Funny this should come up on slashdot... Just a week or two ago I had been looking at getting a pikosatellite kit (till I found out they cost ~ $6000) but in true slashdot fashion.. I thought.. Wouldnt it be cool to have a Beuwolf Cluster of these suckers in orbit...
  • by witte (681163) on Monday November 07, 2005 @02:40PM (#13972266)
    40 kg ? How much is that in frikken lasers ?
    Now all I need is a USB-compatible shark brain to pilot it...

    2. Threaten to blow up planet (10 times)
    3. Profit !
  • Beer (Score:5, Funny)

    by gmuslera (3436) on Monday November 07, 2005 @02:42PM (#13972289) Homepage Journal
    Luckily they put an OS that is, between more things, Free... who knows how much it would costed if they used there Windows.

    There are too much joke potential with the idea of throwing out to space Windows computers also, but of course, nobody wants that a blue screen turns it into a red meteorite of death.

  • I'd better get the IP address and shut mine down before Gary Winston can get to it!
  • Imagine a beowolf cluster of these!!

    just had to add it.
  • Just imagine a Beowu-- oh, nevermind.

  • Finally I can create a satellite with a giant "laser" and hold the world ransom for......ONE MILLION DOLLARS!
  • Great! If you could just bolt this 40kg ball of high-temp stainless steel to your comm/maneuvering package, we should be all set. Just let me know the sequence for deorbit; I'll take care of the targetting myself.
  • if someone participating in the project could get access to a coupla pounds of Pu to keep the penguin warm, they could probably build a Linux probe to Kuiper Belt, and beyond!

    Satellites are totally played out.
  • by mikael (484) on Monday November 07, 2005 @03:06PM (#13972531)
    The Modular Microsat Bus utilizes such things as plug and play USB, Ethernet, and other standards

    Does the USB cable double as a space elevator when not in use?
  • I wonder if Havenco [] could figure out a way to operate on one (or more) of these, at least until the US Star Wars program deploys a working orbital laser weapon to knock it out (and at least then, we'd know!).
  • by dlippolt (100881) on Monday November 07, 2005 @03:55PM (#13973044) Homepage
    but damn is it funny, every time i watch it. l []

    especially funny, in the context of this topic

  • With 3000ms+ ping times and $10m, it's the most expensive and the worse counter-strike server ever. But I bet the server would still be fully loaded if it was limited to only playing de_dust.
  • What about legal? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Terrasque (796014)
    What laws will this satelite be bound to?

    Lets for example say someone put up a webserver and put some seriously illegal stuff on it (childporn? nasty comments about george bush?).. Who gets to shoot it down?
  • I think this is a great idea for a datahaven. It would cost way more than $10 million to shoot it down, and it would be accessible from anywhere on almost 50% of the surface of the Earth, which would make it hard for a gov't to cut off access to it. If you stick it in geosynch just over the eastern Indian Ocean, you could call it SatelliteFreeChina(.int:).
  • That much money and 40kg payload are hardly microsats in my book. A while ago there was an article on REALLY small satellites, 5kg or less costing $10,000 to be placed in low earth orbit.

    I'd rather have a smaller satellite shot further high so it lasts years longer.

    Is it possible to have your satellite bolted onto the ISS for a monthly fee? The ISS is frequently pushed back into orbit, so it doesnt fall down.
  • Ah, suddenly Universal Serial Bus makes sense.

    I think this is friggin' great. When you have a new device you want to plug into the USB port, you just... uh...

  • []

    You can also land them via remote control, and fix anything that goes wrong with a
    one man crew in a farmer's field if u wanted to .

    NASA's altitude record for a ballon stands at 171,000 ft I believe .

    In the Stratosphere there is no wind, so the balloon being blown around is not an issue .

  • Apart from the obvious "how do you press the on/off/reset button" and "how do you remove CD 1 and insert CD 2"....

    How the heck can you read a logfile with all those timezone changes?
  • To me I think the ultimate would be to have private space probes that could go beyond the earth and the moon. Imagine hundreds of misc. probes going out in every different direction, some to Mars, some to Venus, some to the Asteroid belt. I don't think something like that could be privatized, but I think it would be a good idea to create a kind of VW Bug, a standard platform, for space probes. Maybe you could upgrade the computer core as the technology evolves, but standardize on the rest of it, the prop

The confusion of a staff member is measured by the length of his memos. -- New York Times, Jan. 20, 1981