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Budget Satellite 213

codejunkie writes: "Check out this story from the Baltimore Sun. Apparently the middies were laughed at when they proposed a budget satellite for 50K. Boeing said it couldn't be done and gave them 250K. Well now they can build five more because the smart minds on the bay have built one."
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Budget Satellite

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  • The quality? (Score:2, Insightful)

    But will the quality be the same? Aren't the more expensive parts expensive just because they are designed for outer space use?
    • I remember seeing a schematic for an electronic circuit that explicitly specified a particular Radio Shack part for one of the semiconductor devices. The circuit would not work with commercial quality devices, only the Radio Shack part could be relied upon to have sufficient leakage current, which is normally a bad thing, for the circuit to work.
      • Don't even get me started about Radio Trash.

        I've been farting around with electronics since I was 14 (I'm 38 now), and Radio Trash harldly ever has what I want. I went in this just week to pick up connectors to go from a 1/4" mono microphone I got laying around to the 1/8" stereo input on my sound card. After 15 minutes, I left in disgust. I tried every conceivable combination of connectors they had in stock, and I just could not make it work. Short of buying solder connectors and wiring my own (and having to cut the end off my microphone to boot), there was simply no way to do it from their selection of parts.

        I don't know how many times through the years that has happened.

        A long time ago, they used to sell little kits, where you got a (say) 16-pin chip, and a fold-out data sheet, with schematics for one or two projects. Buy a few resistors, capacitors, transistors, and a little enclosure, and you'd have a pretty neat project on the cheap.

        No way, never happened. They never had all the right parts in stock. And they were the ones that sold the schematic in the first place!

        Grumble, grumble... I hate Radio Trash. If I have the time, I usually head over to Electronic Parts in Harahan --- they always have what you need, and way cheaper than Radio Trash.

        • There's no sense in bitching about RadioShack. They're the 7-11 of the electronics retail business and they're quite happy to be that. They don't want the whole market, just the profitable part.

          No, they don't sell the highest quality zener diodes or tantalum capacitors. They don't have to. The people who really want that stuff can find it without them.

          I'll let you in on a little secret: The stuff you're bitching about isn't a huge part of their dollar volume. They make most of their money on batteries, TV accessories and phone accessories.

          Oh, and while it's certainly possible they've discontinued the part, they did used to sell a 1/4" mono-to-stereo adapter plug. They also had stereo 1/4" to 1/8" adapters. You could have then attached a 1/8" to RCA plug cable to another 1/8" to RCA plug cable via some RCA couplers. Yes, it would have been a horrible kludge, but you apparently would prefer that to soldering up your own cable.

      • Radio Shanty: You've got questions, we've got blank stares.
    • From the article: If all goes as planned, the academy would become the third undergraduate institution to send a satellite into space, after Weber State University in Ogden, Utah, and the U.S. Air Force Academy, which launched a satellite in January 2000. That satellite stopped responding after several days because of what professors there believe was a power supply problem.

      So the answer is, maybe not. And who exactly wants that sort of pollution flying around up there anyway?

    • But will the quality be the same? Aren't the more expensive parts expensive just because they are designed for outer space use?

      Well, Radio Shack electronic components have a reputation for being the very poorest quality. It is possible to acquire much higher quality components for similar or better prices at places like Digi-Key [] or Mouser Electronics [].

      Even if they did use the very highest quality electronic components available there wouldn't be much relative cost difference. If a resistor at Radio Shack is $0.10ea and a much better resistor is available from a real electronics supplier for $0.20ea then there's not going to be much of a difference when you need a dozen of them.
    • There is every reason to believe the midshipmen at the Naval Academy will have a satellite of quality equal or superior to any commercial satellite. I helped build some of the earliest satellite and missile equipment, starting about 1960. The government used a specification and testing program designed to be so tight that the commercial company could not build anything badly. Testing was very rigid and manufacturing and rework very tightly monitored, to assure that no manufacturer could build an inferior product. Everyone thought they could beat the profit motive and get a superior product. The price of this fanatical quality control was very high, and the most notable failure was the blowup of the shuttle with Christa McAuliffe aboard. The profit motive had won out over quality once more, and the government was shown again that more money is not a cure for corporate greed.

      The midshipmen at the USNA are in it for pride, not profit. They are making a hand-built, thoroughly tested satellite as a learning project. They have adequate funds, brains, and pride. They are not threatened with stockholder suits if the project fails to make lots of money, only ridicule from the other services if they fail. That prospect of ridicule guarantees an all-out effort to deliver as promised. No one likes to fail when the reputation of a service is on the line, particularly the service expected to pay and promote project members.
    • Re:The quality? (Score:2, Interesting)

      by mikewas ( 119762 )
      Space grade components are the same silicon die, off of the same production line, as any other grade IC.

      The differences:

      1. Package: Usually ceramic or welded metal cases that are hermetically sealed. The more common plastic components breath as they temperature cycle. When they "inhale" there's a posssibility that contaminants are drawn into the case.

      2. Test: Almost all parameters are 100% tested whereas commercial quality components are minimally tested with thorough testing done on selected lots. Tests are also conducted over a wider temperature range, Often electrical performance is less than for commercial components (e.g. lower speed,less gain) but the parameters are guarenteed over a wider range of temperature

      3. Burn-in: Parts are burned in, operated at elevated temperature & power, to weed out infant failures. This improves reliability at the cost of slightly decreased lifetime

      4. Inspection: The manufacturing & test facilities are inspected & certified to assure consistentcy in the production of the components. You're assured that the parts were made & tested in exactly the same way that the parts characterized on the data sheet you used to design your circuit.

      5. Documentation: The product's entire life cycle is documented. You know exactly who made it, when & where. If a problem does manage to slip through you can track it back to the root cause then forward to all individual parts affected.

      6. Marking: The chips are distinctively marked. Not only the part number, for example, the tops of ICs are usualy painted silver.

      Al of these are things you can work around. You can seal the box the parts are contained in instead of each individual component. You can buy large lots of commercial components to assure uniformity. You can build boards or larger subassemblies then test & burnin these assemblies trading of the cost of test vs. the cost of thrwing away failed assemblies.

      This has all been done before for military & space qualified projects. My guess is that these guys have done a better job of managing the project & costs. Not a trivial task, since you be able to look into the future & understand how the entire development & production process works.

  • do they think it'll last???
  • Woo hoo (Score:2, Funny)

    by WickedClean ( 230550 )
    Oh great, the Yugo of sattelites. Parts are gonna break off and land on my house, now that I've said something.

    Don't you wish people would give you 5 times the amount you asked for when doing projects like this?
    • Jeez, talk about the Military-Industrial Complex! (ref. Eisenhower's warning upon leaving office) - usually industry applies for grants from government, but here it's the other way around. Boeing actually gave the U.S. Naval Academy 250 big ones? I guess the Bush campaign figured it had enough money to buy, er... win, the election already, so Rumsfeld just nudged and winked... and Boeing paid.

      I wonder if Boeing gained any rights to the cheap technology developed by these government employees using this "grant" money?

      • "I wonder if Boeing gained any rights to the cheap technology developed by these government employees using this "grant" money?

        You would rather have government hold on to this new stuff ?
    • Don't you wish people would give you 5 times the amount you asked for

      Not when I'm "asking for it" by predicting that a satellite will fall and hit my house :)
  • by Justen ( 517232 ) on Saturday August 25, 2001 @03:17AM (#2215754) Homepage Journal
    "And they were innovative - they discovered that the tape in a tape measure would flip into place on its own while in orbit."

    We remember the last space venture battling metric versus auxiliary measurement systems.

    (I'm sorry NASA. You guys do wonderful things. I just couldn't resist.)

    • The "innovative" use of tape measures (or the equivalent steel tape) dates back at least 10 years to the AMSAT Microsats. I believe the Microsats actually did use hardware store tape measures. We used the same antenna material (purchased for this use, not recycled from tape measures) on AO-27 and IO-26.

      Using tape measure material for whip and dipole-style antenna elements is well-known in the amateur satellite community. Several of the middishimen's advisors are also active in AMSAT, and probably provided the suggestion if the middies didn't find it themselves.

  • by Modus Nonsens ( 461848 ) on Saturday August 25, 2001 @03:19AM (#2215761)
    The MacGyver satellite
  • If the project costs 45k to build, what is the launch cost??

    Surely money would be better spent on making the system more reliable, than to waste it on an unsuccessful launch.
    • I'm not exactly sure, but when I was there I think my roommate was working on this project. If I remember correctly he told me that because Midshipmen were used in the building of the satellite they would get DoD funds to launch the rocket. Well, if anything, I wish them luck.
      Ens Krause. Class of 2000
  • More information (Score:4, Informative)

    by Gogo Dodo ( 129808 ) on Saturday August 25, 2001 @03:31AM (#2215794)
    The article didn't provide any external links or even program names. So...

    • The satellite is called PCsat [] (Prototype Communications Satellite, went cheap on the name, too, I guess)
    • Information on the Kodiak Launch Complex []
    • Information on Starshine III [], the "1,500 hand-polished mirrors that will study orbital decay" satellite
  • if you got some creative electrical engineers together and explained what you needed they could do it for under 10000 easy

    give this job to caltech and see what they can do
    • The article stated: "Much of the expense came from paying testing facilities to try out the bargain-basement ideas." So yeah, maybe Caltech or somebody could come in under $10k for design and construction, but does that take testing into account?
  • middies? (Score:1, Funny)

    by HunterRose ( 101651 )
    for what its worth, we hate the term middies. mids or midshipmen is far more preferable.
  • Anyone have any idea where the $25 panels can be purchased for $25 like the article says?

    I want to build an array to power my house.... Or at least build an dc -> ac power outlet for my laptop in the desert... Anyone have any idea?
  • $50,000 is too much (Score:5, Informative)

    by Faies ( 248065 ) on Saturday August 25, 2001 @03:45AM (#2215830) Homepage
    Some of you may recall that around January/November there were a few articles discussing the CanSat program [] where high school students launched soda cans to about 12,000 feet. Experiements varied from taking precise location data to flying whole sets of cans in formation on a preprogrammed path (actually, that last experiement was pulled off by several Lockheed Martin engineers getting a little practice).

    Several students at my school, Leland High [], decided that we should undertake a challenge unlike any other. A goal was set to be the first high school to launch a satellite into outer space and have it communicate back with earth, as vaguely mentioned in a Slashback []. This particular program is called Cubesat, but only consisted exclusively of universities and private corporations/citizens until we came along.

    Much like the engineers in this article, we are using off-the-shelf parts to build our satellite, albeit not from Radio Shack since Radio Shacks don't seem to carry much in San Jose. The antenna we are designing exemplifies the simplicity of the components. In theory, guitar string or the wire used in braces would do the job easily. Our power system is even more simple: d-sized lithium batteries (non-rechargable) linked together.

    The parts for our Cubesat will cost less than $5,000, more likely less than $1,000. We are hoping that our prototype will function properly during a test launch on an amateur rocket. After that, designing the antenna configuration (for those who are knowledgable about radio, our cube-shaped satellite forms a poor ground plane and we are also confined to a difficult broadcast frequency) and internal layout (to ensure that our satellite has a perfect center of gravity).

    You can reach the webpage for the Leland Cubesat team here []. Be forewarned, some of the information is slightly out of date at the moment. I will do my best to fix that as soon as possible, but priorities lie elsewhere at the moment.

    • First offer at 5.000.000, any lower?
      Ah, the gentleman in uniform, 50.000 it is!
      Come on, folks, you can go lower than that! Do I hear 10.000? Anybody dare to bid 5.000? Ah, thank you! 5.000 it is, for the schoolboy in the back row.
      Well, folks, this is getting interesting. Who has the guts to do it for 500? Come on, Three times they hava managed to cut the price by a factor of 10, can you do the fourth time? What, no bids?
      I hate to say, but 5000 is the best bid so far. Going once! ... Going twice! Last chance, folks!
    • you forgot the tactical nuclear weapons that are included in satellite costs.

      Of course you could buy them on a second hand fair in Russia but don't forget the packing and sending costs to USA which will increase the total costs in a way that the domestic nuclear weapons are available for the same price.
      And if you buy US-weapons and they fail (let's say you hit Seattle instead of Redmont) you can get enough money from the company to buy 10 new satellites.
    • You should also remember that there is no cost for labor. The students are not getting paid or at least not in money ;) Same for the professors. All they are paying for is materials and other things they need that they can't do themselves.

      What's the estimated labor cost? Well 3 students for 3 years + some professor time, maybe they each can put in an average of 20 hours/week + professor time so maybe the equivalent of 2 full time people. that gives us about 6 man years of effort. 2 aerospace engineers including things like benefits, etc so maybe a man year costs $150K so a commercial effort might end up costing closer to $750K in wages in addition to the $50K equipment cost.

      Even assuming the labor cost estimate is hald the extimate, its still $375K for salary and benefits, etc.

  • but seriously, the whole thing is going to cost far more than $50k... I've read that it costs the Russians $10mil to send a rocket into space to the International Space Station. I'm just guessing, because I don't want to dig up the data right now. But I'm going to asume that this launch by NASA is going to be roughly the same amount of money, and it's definitely not less that $1mil.

    So assuming a launch cost of anywhere from $1mil to $10mil, and considering there are 4 satelites going into orbit on the same flight, the price per satelite to launch is $250k to $2.5mil. And the final price for the satelite is $300k to $2.5mil.

    Definitely not the $50k they're talking about. The ideea is still very interesting, and I hope it works out. But I just had to point out something that the article was obviously avoiding.

  • I seriously doubt the durability of this thing. A year is a nice goal, but it just doesn't seem possible. With temperatures varying several hundred degrees in orbit will some cheap solar panels designed for the desert really hold up for a year? I think not. I give these guys about 5 minutes in orbit before the thing literally melts into a pile of goo. Then the NASA boys can say, "I told you so," and then go bug congress for more money. "See! Look what happens when you do it cheap!?"

    Also, it might be really interesting to see Radio Shack get excited about this. If by some engineering feat it does actually work Radio Shack could become 'cool' again. Who wouldn't want to build their own satellite for $50,000? Of course everyone will want one, and that might be a BAD thing. I understand that there is a lot of space in orbit, but I remember a show on the Discovery Channel describing how difficult it is getting for the space shuttle to navigate in orbit due to the ever increasing space junk up there. NORAD is supposed to track all of it - do you think they will be sending these guys a bill to track their $50,000 satellite if it goes whacko? I would. Do we really want a whole bunch of Radio Shack satellites orbiting the earth? When was the last time you purchased something really durable and interesting at Radio Shack?

  • Motorola's Iridium debacle [] and Loral's Globalstar fiasco [] teaches us one thing about building and launching sats.

    Hire some bright students and they'll figure out a way to get it done for a fraction of the cost.

    Too bad they had to find out the hard way

  • they discovered that the tape in a tape measure would flip into place on its own while in orbit

    For one, you really can't call that a discovery...
    My main concern, though, is the reliability of the tape measure in question. I know I've had several tape measures that would never regain their rigidness once bent out of shape. This has happenes with even the reliable brands that don't typically have such problems.

    While I appreciate the savings, I'm sure the public would be upset with NASA if they spent the millions to launch the satelite, and the entire satelite fails, simply due to a $5 tape-meausure component. Prices are important, but you must maintain a certain level of reliability that this project obviously isn't concerned with. It's fine for this instution as they could care less if NASA wastes money on their project (they have nothing to loose if it fails, and a lot of publicity to gain if it succeeds).

    • Where I worked we used a similar antenna-- A rolled up piece of regular measuring tape. Of course, the yellow looked funny, but we couldn't find a good supplier of raw material that didn't have some outrageous minimum buy. We also tried scrubbing off the paint, but found that once we got the smallest nick in the tape, it would soon fail there. So, AFAIK, we launched with the yellow tape. These were also handy for use in hinges -- once a panel opened, we wanted it to stay open, dammit, and the tape did that. But, you could do worse. One small satellite's primary antenna was made of copper tape, kapton tape (space-qualified packing tape), and bamboo.
    • My main concern, though, is the reliability of the tape measure in question. I know I've had several tape measures that would never regain their rigidness once bent out of shape. This has happenes with even the reliable brands that don't typically have such problems.

      Actually, contractor-grade tape measures are quite durable. They're wider and a bit thicker than the ones you get in regular hardware stores, and usually come with extended guarantees. But said guarantees are likely void off the planet Earth :-) Well, that and if you cut a piece off to use as an antenna...
  • Maybe if OSDN has the money, Slashdot could have it's own satellite in space. Now that would be something for nerds!
    • I know a cool slogan for that satellite:

      slashdot - more than just a dot in the sky

  • This I call progress. I am convinced that the next generation mainstream satelites will use tape measure antennas, not actual tape measures but especially crafted satelite antenna tape. It will sell for say 10x what these guys spent on theirs but it will still be cheaper than motorized deployment.

    Now, if only we could slash launch cost by as much
  • by baptiste ( 256004 ) <mike&baptiste,us> on Saturday August 25, 2001 @05:19AM (#2215972) Homepage Journal
    I can't believe that /.ers are being so negative about this! Cut them some slack! I think its a really neat project. All I see is "It'll never last/work" or "What about the launch costs"

    Hell, I wish them the best of luck. I hope the satellite lasts them 5 years instead of one. The idea here ISN'T making satellites out of cheap parts, its coming up with less expensive ways to accomplish the tasks needed to operate a saltellite. Sure using a tape measure for an antenna sounds hokey, but maybe it'll give the professionals some ideas for the future (gee antennas that unroll on their own instead of requriing some advanced deployment system that only gets used once) etc.

    For as much as folks bitch about the gov't here, I think if a few students decide to show that a satellite CAN be constructed cheaply - more power to them. The information they gather will be very useful. Yes, sure, the launch costs aren't part of the $50K, but that wasn't part of the equation. Most satellites themselves WITHOUT launch costs are millions and millions of dollars. Nobody said they could launch it and build it for < $50K. So they hitch a ride on a rocket going up anyway. Remember, this thing is pretty small and it probably is tucked into the payload bay where a normal size satellite wouldn't fit.

    But even if it isn't. I'd think geeks like us would be proud that some students got laughed at when applying for the grant and managed to pull it off through some everyday common sense and ingenuity. I say good luck and I hope everything works as planned!

    • Believe me, unless this satellite had some sort of open source software or had a big banner that said "Screw M$!!!" on the side, these narrow-sighted fools wouldn't care less.
    • Right on! One of the traits that people who advance the state of the engineering arts is a fearless optimism that isn't echoed by their community. The Mids are operating in the finest tradition of American inventors. Remember Fulton's folly? How about some of the pre-Wright brothers flight experiments? Even if they fail, we'll learn something about the longevity and reliability that this approach can produce. Combine the lessons learned here with those of the similar approach NASA is using for its Mars missions and we may have something worth emulating and incorporating in the project development process.

      The mids have really thought outside the box. I'm proud of them.
  • by keflex ( 451680 )
    I swear, most of you people are idiots. As soon as someone brings up such an interesting feat such as this one, people are quick to point at all the flaws. Well, I would like to see you idiots build a satellite for even triple the cost. Cripes, they do something great as an undergraduate project and all you idiots can see are the negatives. Morons.
  • Some of you people are insane. Your going off about how the sat will fail due to the fact that it dindt cost $100 million. I saw many people point to low cost failure's. Anyone care to link of the high cost one's?? What was that sat that was lost while landing on Mars? Anyone happen to have links to the ARRL's sat's that were put up in the 70's and 80's??? they were low cost and ran for . One had a salad bowl for a antenna, they didnt even BUY it.

    Now let me show my insanity, If we had more creative people like this i'd bet you even money we could be on Mars, with a fuctioning colony before 2010. Anyone wanna ask Mr Bill if he would like is own planet? (BTW, any one happen to have the link to the space colonizing & mining laws?? I seam to have lost it)

  • by Anonymous Coward
    This satellite is designed to retransmit data from amateur radio stations using APRS, Automatic Position Reporting System.

    There is a site which stores all these and produces both single reports and summary pages. For example, here is the page for reports re-transmitted by the International Space Station: []

    (presently the amateur equipment abord ISS is turned off, so there is no data from the last few days).

    When PCSat is operational, there will be a similar page available for the output from this satellite. I don't have the URL yet, but look at the main page for the database for it once it is available: []

    Steve Dimse K4HG

  • ducktape. Yes folks, the only thing that will survive the nuclear war besides coakroaches. Personally, I don't think there has been a project yet, that could have not been improved or fixed by ducktape. No need for those fancy bolts, plates, etc. The 50k$ satellite will use ducktape.
  • by charlie ( 1328 ) <charlie@antipop[ ]rg ['e.o' in gap]> on Saturday August 25, 2001 @07:03AM (#2216083) Homepage Journal
    The Baltimore Sun didn't do their research very well -- the University of Surrey, in England, has been doing exactly this since the mid-EIGHTIES, with their UoSAT series of minisatellites.

    UoSAT-1, if I remember correctly (details are sparse on the net) was build on a budget of 60,000 as a student project and piggybacked into orbit on an Ariane-4 comsat launch. A number of subsequent UoSATs are part of the OSCAR series of radio amateur satellites, and a commercial spin-off of the University, SSTL (Surrey Satellite Technology Limited) build and sell minisats in the 200-500Kg rangefor commercial purchasers; see, for example, this report [] of the launch of UoSAT-12 (from 1999).

  • most of the money in really expensive satellite goes into making it a system that provides a lot of backup options if something goes wrong. i.e. if it stops communicating with the earth, the satelline will try several things, like spinning itself round, etc. to reestablish communications. You can't provide this kind of systems on a budget satellite so if you loose it, that is nothing you can do but say: oh, i was budget. Secondly, a large fraction of the cost of real satellites goes into salaries of top engineers and into space electronics - a simple opamp costs ten times the one on the earth - just because you can be sure it is going to work.

    Don't get me wrong, I truly belive this is a great idea and a lot of fresh ideas might come up, but people who build "proper" satellites are not wasting their money, it is a commercial enterprise after all...
  • just like the Mids themselves! Innovative, able to go on with next to no budget, fiercely determined ...

    but I wonder if in the presence of more senior satellites (which is nearly all of them) it drops everything it is doing and stands rigidly vertical?
  • If one could devise an inexpensive enough and small enough means to have servers in space and a good way to have them communicate with Earth clients (such as all those wireless networks people are starting), there could be another version of the Internet. My guess is that the smaller they were, the more you could have and the harder it'd be to put them out of commission. I'll leave it for people who know something about all this to work out the details, but I'm sure it's a possibility.
  • Why Alaska? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by eean ( 177028 )
    Why are they launching the rocket from the Kodiak islands?
    Don't you need a more powerful rocket the farther away you get from the equator? I heard that was why the Russians built such powerful rockets because they launched them from Siberia.

    Florida makes a lot more sense.

    There is that one company the launch's rockets from a ship so that they can do it at the equator and avoid the here-today-gone-tomorrow governments that are on the equator.
    • > Why are they launching the rocket from the Kodiak islands?
      > Don't you need a more powerful rocket the farther away you get from the equator?

      Not if you want to launch a satellite into polar orbit.

  • Build a satellite for $50K, that is.
    The article clearly stated that they ignored the cost of a significant amount of labor, as it was provided by individual grants.

    Not to diminish the main point that there are sometimes unorthodox inexpensive solutions, it's hardly fair to use these cost comparisons to pick on aerospace firms who don't have labor forces that are willing to work for free.

  • Gives new meaning to "Geeks In Space". Where do I sign up for broadcast rights ;) ?

  • It doesn't cost too much to get into space, if you've got something small. For cost a US "educational facility" $1500. [] under the Get Away Special (GAS-CAN) [] program. But that's not what those people are doing...

    Instead, they are on the Athena 1 rocket []... I used to work for Defense Systems (bought by CTA, bought by Orbital... you know the drill), and my satellite -- GemStar -- was the first to go on this model rocket []. The price of the rocket was many times more than our vehicle, and we played the usual space chicken game (where they threaten to launch a slab of concrete and then when we're ready, all of the sudden they weren't really ready). Finally, launch day, and we're watching the video and it goes up and and up... and after about a minute it's going at an amazing speed, and then all of the sudden makes a 90 degree turn. The thing is going so fast that the thrust of the rocket doesn't even affect its direction. The range officer blew it up. Oh well. When I was with DSI we also made bouys -- the joke was that we should just upload the bouy software to the satellites because they always seem to end up in the ocean anyway.

    The reason for the failure [] was that the guidance control loop had some undamped and unintended oscillations.. and there was only a limitied amount of hydrolic fluid on board to control the position of the thrusters. Once the fluid was expended (it was just squirted out after being used), there was no more directional control.

    After our flight, they changed the name of the rocket from the LMLV-1 to the Athena to distance the second rocket from this first failure. Ironically, the second one failed too.
  • We hate to cut your educations short, but you're needed in the DOD procurement office right now []. Here are your comissions. Get to work!
  • The millitary would benifit greatly from the advanced communication they could setup in the field using portable temporary satelites. You don't think they had an alterior motive, do you?
  • I'm not an efficiency expert, but shouldn't the first satellite cost far more than its successors? R&D, and all that, doens't apply to duplicates, right?
  • It's nice to see students getting a chance to do this. If the effective government monopoly on space launch could be pried loose the price might come down to where more colleges could afford this (as it is their getting a "free" launch).

    Oh, and re:

    "And they were innovative - they discovered that the tape in a tape measure would flip into place on its own while in orbit. A more expensive antenna system would have depended on electronics to do the same thing."

    This must be the Microsoft definition of "innovative" -- the steel tape measure technique for satellite antennas has been around since the 1960's.

    For that matter, motorized antennas are pretty cheap (think automobile scrap), just ridiculously heavy for that application.
  • Check out this text about the cooling experiment [], referenced off the main PCsat page []:

    So we put 80 RED LEDS on the bottom of PC sat as a 3W thermal radiator for this test. And just for fun, at night we can also turn them on as
    power permits as a visual experiment. Calculations suggest a magnitude of about 6 if it is pointing straight down. Eight, if it is off to one side or the other. Magnitude 8 is visible with binoculars.


    Which middie will be the first geek to cobble together a scrolling LED sign seen from space?

IN MY OPINION anyone interested in improving himself should not rule out becoming pure energy. -- Jack Handley, The New Mexican, 1988.