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Space Science

Fly Your Own Experiment In Space 76

An anonymous reader writes "Want to fly your own experiment in space? dvice are reporting on a project called Ardusat — a satellite based (unsurprisingly perhaps, given the name) on Arduinos. For $500 you can upload your own code to the satellite, and run your own experiment for 1 week. Experimenters will have access to a veritable battery of 25 sensors including magnetometer, geiger counter, accelerometer, gas sensors and various others. As well as allowing for affordable space science, this sounds like it would be awesome for educational institutes."
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Fly Your Own Experiment In Space

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  • And why exactly? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Giant Electronic Bra ( 1229876 ) on Friday June 15, 2012 @08:30PM (#40341065)

    Why exactly would you want to run code ON the satellite? "run sensors, download data" That's pretty much the drill... The interesting code is what you run to analyze the data AFTER you get it...

    • by Anonymous Coward
      Exactly. This is nothing but a marketing ploy combined with a money grab. They should simply record the data from the sensors, and then release it freely to be analyzed by anyone.
    • Re:And why exactly? (Score:4, Informative)

      by Beryllium Sphere(tm) ( 193358 ) on Friday June 15, 2012 @08:39PM (#40341159) Homepage Journal

      The article makes it sound like you can control the aiming of the sensors. That could be worthwhile if so.

      • by Giant Electronic Bra ( 1229876 ) on Friday June 15, 2012 @09:17PM (#40341375)

        Or they're pretty specialized. Honestly, the sensor suite that they have on their proposed satellite isn't going to care what code is running it, the only thing that could possibly be interesting to do is point the thing in some direction so the camera can take a picture of it. They could do that just with a single simple app that points the thing in a specific direction at a specific time. All the other sensors might as well just be sampled constantly and the data downlinked.

        I could see things being more interesting with a more customized set of sensors perhaps, but REALLY the only thing you can do with one of these things is point it anyway. It isn't like you're going to be able to stick a 20' long dipole magnetometer on one!

        Still, it sounds fun as an educational thing for schools. People could learn a few things about how REAL code is engineered, written, and flight qualified, hehe. Of course 99% of /. could probably use that lesson! I know developing code that has flown on various things was quite a good way for me to learn, that's for sure (and no the next 747 you fly in probably won't fall out of the sky, and if it does it was someone else's fault, V-22s OTOH may be a different matter, but you couldn't pay me enough to set foot in one anyway...).

        • You're bang-on about the educational aspect, giving students a chance to get actual hands-on experience with coding real hardware is a big part of what we're trying to accomplish. Cheers, Joel
          • Hope things go really well. I'm sure we're all pretty excited about the whole thing. You guys are going to have a lot of fun with this. I'd love to see schools and such launching their own satellites in 10 years, and it really could happen. fun fun!

            • I agree completely, how cool would it be for high school students to someday be able to launch a CubeSat all on their own?
      • Oh! I know this one! []

    • by tchernobog ( 752560 ) on Friday June 15, 2012 @08:51PM (#40341253)

      Then again, you could hack into the main system, power on the thrusters, and ram into a military-grade satellite, changing its azimuth. In the ensuing madness, small splinters get sent across the Earth orbit at high speed, finally surrounding us by the Kessler syndrome we deserve, and cutting us out of space for a good while.

      Ah, you can't take away one man's apocalyptic dream. :-)

      Maybe I can cut out a job as a space-sweeper [].

      • Sadly, our satellite won't have any propulsion, which puts a bit of a crimp in most apocalyptic plots. Too bad too, I hear supplying tech to super-villains is a good market to get into.

    • You can choose what you want to image (e.g. Area51).
      Here is the kickstarter page that has some more info []

      • Sure, but I don't need to upload code to do that. In fact I'd imagine any sane design won't turn over actual low level spacecraft control to user supplied code, even if it has been vetted.

    • Depends on what you are trying to do -- you are often limited by your downlink capabilities, so downloading large quantities of data is expensive. Sometimes you are also limited by on-board data storage or throughput. Pre-processing data on orbit and downloading the results can dramatically increase the capabilities of the spacecraft, if the data processing is a known problem and you are able to throw the MIPS at it.

      • Pretty much never done because a lot of the important questions revolve around how you actually end up interpreting the data, and raw data is far more valuable for that. When a sensor reports a voltage for instance you want that voltage reading, not some digested version of it who's calibration is hard to know. The general practice is to use compression techniques of various kinds, or some very basic data reduction. Satellites are really remote sensors, not so much remote data processing systems. In general

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Hi, my name's Joel and I'm one of the engineers on the project. There's two main reasons why we want the code to be running on the satellite itself:

      - we want people to be able to write code that actually makes use of the data and make the satellite respond in real-time, (like writing an algorithm to maximize power generated by a tether through steering, or maybe test new control algorithms to improve pointing accuracy of the control system)

      - we want the satellite to serve as a proof-of-concept for the abili

  • by fluffy99 ( 870997 ) on Friday June 15, 2012 @08:33PM (#40341111)

    This sounds like an awesome High School Project! Imagine the fun of learning to program an Arduino, then have it do something real in-space.

    • by uzd4ce ( 1916592 )

      Yeah, especially when it burns up before your high school students can do anything since "None of this payload stuff (neither the sensors nor the Arduinos) are specifically space-rated or radiation-hardened or anything like that, and some of them will be exposed directly to space."

      • by Osgeld ( 1900440 )

        bah, some copper tape and styrofoam your good

      • I certainly wouldn't bet my life-critical systems, or zillion-dollar defense-contractor-welfare-vehicle, on something banged together from ordinary parts; but it would be wholly unsurprising for it to mostly work, as long as it is watchdogged properly and the soldering isn't so dire that thermal stresses crack it immediately...

        There isn't that much radiation in low orbit and microcontrollers don't exactly take very long to reboot.
  • If that new kernel you were building can work in SPACE!!!!!!
    • As much as saying so makes me suspect that I may have only a shriveled hatred core where my sense of wonder is supposed to be, the Getaway specials program looks like a superb example of why we don't have the space shuttle anymore... An essentially PR-driven program of giving away chunks of wildly expensive orbital lift capacity without any scientific or technological justification because there apparently wasn't anything more sensible to do with it.
      • The shuttle only made sense at high load factors and with good economies of scale. When that didn't happen, the flyback booster was canned, solid boosters and the throwaway ET replaced it. And then every flight was dangerous and expensive.

  • "Hopeful" language (Score:5, Insightful)

    by uzd4ce ( 1916592 ) on Friday June 15, 2012 @09:14PM (#40341359)

    I wrote the following post, then just said Fuck It. Basically this article spews more shit than a shit-eater on the vomitron rollercoaster. Read if you like, i got tired and quit before finishing. Summary: people trying to scam $35k.

    Just the language of the article makes it sound like a kind of pipe dream (or scam) -- nevermind why would i want to use sensors that someone else chose & put on there ... this wouldn't be a real experiment. My experiment would be making beer; I realize Sapporo already did this, but i want space-homebrew.

    Instances where the language is really not making me think this is actually going to happen (and TFP is just more marketing):

    "designing a satellite made almost entirely of off-the-shelf (or slightly modified) hobby-grade hardware, launching it quickly, and then using Kickstarter to give you a way to get directly involved."
      -- Very oversimplified... "it's all so quick and easy" is what it makes me think ... too easy

    " ArduSat, as its name implies, will run on Arduino boards .... ArduSat will be packing.... Lots of sensors, probably 25 ..."
      -- Will run... ok, so it's not running yet. Will be packing ... ok, so it's not packing yet... "probably" ok... they haven't figured out how many???? It's mid-2012, and they're wanting to launch in 2013??? seriously???? Methinks they're running late for the train; er... rocket.

    "NanoSatisfi is looking for Kickstarter funding to pay for just the launch of the satellite itself: the funding goal is $35,000. Thanks to some outside investment, it's able to cover the rest of the cost itself."
      -- So everything is covered, we just need to come up with a mere $35k? That's a lot of money for something that's still in the pipe dream phase, never mind the mysterious benefactor element. Who's the exudingly benevolent party?

    "this will be a learning experience to see what works and what doesn't. The next generation of ArduSat will take all of this knowledge and put it to good use making a more capable and more reliable satellite."
      -- Translation: you're paying for our fuck-ups so we can build a better one that we'll make the real money off of; you won't be invited for that one

    "If this Kickstarter goes bananas and NanoSatisfi runs out of room for people to get involved on ArduSat, no problem, it can just build and launch another ArduSat along with the first, jammed full of (say) fifty more Arduinos so that fifty more experiments can be run at the same time. Or it can launch five more ArduSats. Or ten more."
      -- Umm... where to start... yeah, we have soooooooo many slots to launch it's ridiculous; nevermind our delivery vehicles are soooo diverse that we can change payload size without any problem at all, ah, fuck this.

    • by qxcv ( 2422318 ) on Friday June 15, 2012 @10:16PM (#40341665)

      This is A-grade linkbait, they're just spewing buzzwords and hoping certain news outlets (*cough* Hack-a-Day *cough* *cough*) will pick up on it and direct their readers to the Kickstarter page. Just looking through their writeup, it seems like they have absolutely no idea how they'll *actually process* the data; for example, they claim that they'll put a camera onboard, yet assuming that this camera uses one byte per-pixel channel and has a resolution of 160 * 180, they'll need (3 * 160 * 180)/1024KiB = 84KiB of memory to store a single frame and probably even more to process said frame. Yet the Arduino has only 1KiB of memory, and their downlink is unlikely to be able to transfer a whole frame in a reasonable amount of time (so no live video). That's only one of the big holes in their plan, here are some of the others:

      • They plan to put a GPS onboard, but commercial GPS receivers shut off when they reach 60, 000ft and 999kt. The satellite will exceed both of these limits mere seconds after it leaves the launchpad
      • They haven't explained *how* they plan to launch the satellite into space, or why it's costing them a mere $35, 000
      • As pointed out above, it's unknown what advantage there is to running code *onboard* the craft when you could simply analyse the data on the ground
      • None of their sensors are designed to operate in space. How will their pressure sensor work in a vacuum? Is their temperature sensor rated to work at extreme temperatures? It doesn't sound like it.

      tl;dr parent is right and this is a giant load of bullshit.

      • by Osgeld ( 1900440 )

        "Yet the Arduino has only 1KiB of memory"

        Thats 2k on the standard issue arduino you insensitive clod! Mega has 8, roll your own 1284 has 16 the old arduinos has 1k .. your point still stands, and I cant figure out why in the hell would you waste the time and effort on a 8 bitter when you can get an ARM setup for chump change that could actually do everything they want with ease.

        Its boggling, even for a arduino nut like me.

        • It's funny that you mention the ARM, since the image processing is actually done with the flight control computer, a NanoMind 712C, which uses an ARM processor.


          Joel (ArduSat developer)

      • by Anonymous Coward

        You say "Just looking through their writeup...", but did you look through their writeup (i.e. the kickstarter page)? Did you have your eyes open at the time? They absolutely did explain how they plan to launch it (they hope to get a free ride-along launch from NASA, or if they get enough money through kickstarter, to buy a commercial launch so they can choose the orbit), and that the $35,000 is for building it, not launching.

        They didn't say they were running the whole thing off Arduinos, merely that it has

        • Yup, you got it - the camera itself isn't run on Arduino, but it's still controllable from the payload Arduinos.

          Ack, you're right, we forgot to put the cameras in the package descriptions - thanks for the heads-up!

          The idea main idea with putting the code itself in space is to let people write code that could actually use the sensor/bus data for real-time control, and actually play around with the satellite control system. It's more fun that way, wouldn't you agree? We thought actually using a satellite

      • I for one am looking forward to them realising that electronics can't rely on convection cooling in space. Expect your typical arduino board to either toast itself or be cooked by the radiation. Someone considering doing this with an Arduino and $35000 in funding certainly has no concept of what it takes to harden space faring electronics.

        Though my biggest alarm bells go off when funding is mentioned. It costs a LOT to put something into space. So they got that bit covered but can't cover the last insignifi

        • by sFurbo ( 1361249 )
          It's a cubesat, which, according to WP "In 2004, with their relatively small size, CubeSats could each be made and launched for an estimated $65,000–$80,000.", so 35.000$ is a significant part of the total budget.
        • The thermal management of the Arduinos is definitely an issue - that's partly why we're putting them on a custom PCB with thermal spreaders to help dissipate the heat. It also helps us fit more of them in the envelope.

          Cheers, Joel (ArduSat developer)

      • In terms of the image memory issue, the image processing won't be done on an Arduino, but by the flight control computer (the design baseline uses a GOMSpace NanoMind 712C), which uses a 2GB SD card for storage until we can downlink it. Our downlink rate is around 4800kbps, so we've estimated a full-res image download time of under a two minutes. We won't be taking live video, because you're right, you can't get the data down fast enough; the cameras will take single still frames.

        The GPS we're using isn'

        • by qxcv ( 2422318 )

          Thanks for the reply, and also for adding the GPS question to the FAQ - sorry for jumping to conclusions original post, it's just that most things on the Internet which sound too good to be true usually are.

          • Not a problem re: the GPS, people are definitely in the right to ask questions about the design and try and poke holes in it!

            Re: too good to be true, that's a problem we're running into a lot (especially on Slashdot!), people being incredulous because it sounds too easy, or thinking it's a scam and because we're doing so much of our outreach in the internet. l actually love it when people who know what they're talking about ask any questions about the design, it gives us to have a real discussion and try

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      If you actually visit the kickstarter page instead of the article, you'd get a clearer picture of what they're claiming regarding funding. They want $35,000 to build the satellite (they claim it's already designed, and have a schematic you can download), then they'll apply for free piggyback launches through NASA and ESA programs. (And if they can't get one free within 18 months, supposedly they have a backer willing to pay for a commercial launch.) If they get enough funding from kickstarter, they'll jump

  • Now we can find out if there's intelligent life on Earth!
  • Yeah, Kickstarter.... I'm sure this'll pan out as well as so many other projects have.

    The problem with so many of these Kickstarter projects is that the people asking for money really have no idea what they're doing, and they all seem to think, "If we only had this money..." To do something, like create a product, or in this case, launch a satellite, takes some skill that not everybody has. I wish 'em luck, but I've just spent time looking at a bunch of "coming soon" Kickstarter projects that were full
  • by Intropy ( 2009018 ) on Saturday June 16, 2012 @01:34AM (#40342449)

    I mean I have nothing against them. But their advantage is being cheap commodities. The expensive part of space travel is the traveling to space part. Why go cheap on the components?

    • Because they have no idea. Expect a simple arduino to either fry itself due to lack of cooling or to just get stuck in some kind of a watchdog reset loop as it tries to cope with the radiation bombardment of space.

    • The expensive part of space travel is the traveling to space part.

      That depends on what you're doing and where you're going. Yeah, for a cheap-ass LEO 'probe' getting there is the expensive part. For a Mars lander or a Jovian orbiter, R&D/engineering dominates the costs, with operations coming in a close second. (If the mission goes long enough, these swap positions.) For any decently sized LEO operation, this is going to be true as well - even at current launch costs.

      Why go cheap on the comp

    • The point of using Arduinos wasn't to go cheap on components, but to make the actual satellite itself more accessible and easier to write code for. In fact, we're doing the opposite of going cheap in terms of hardware: the guts of the components for the satellite itself (not the payload) are all pretty costly because they're all space-rated (and most of them are space-proven).

      The expensive hardware is the whole reason we need the Kickstarter campagin!

      Joel (ArduSat developer)

  • A "veritable battery" that is exciting.

  • we could have some fun with the existence of Gods' wrath in the bible belt, we could make that Harold Camping really wet his pants.........
  • Any chance it has a way to transmit power via microwave from and to the planet? I have some SimCity style "experiments" i need to run. ;-)

    • If you managed to wreak SimCity-scale-space-power-damage with the couple of Watts of power it has, I would bow to your awesomeness, sir! (and I think you might get a recruiter from DOD asking for your resume)

  • They work by using pledges:

    For a $150 pledge, you can reserve 15 imaging slots on ArduSat. You'll be able to go to a website, see the path that the satellite will be taking over the ground, and then select the targets you want to image. Those commands will be uploaded to the ArduSat, and when it's in the right spot in its orbit, it'll point its camera down at Earth and take a picture which will be then emailed right to you. From space.

    -- Great, personal spy pictures. No details on the quality or if it will even work from up there. But at $10 per picture it's fairly affordable. But again, quality is what is going to make or break it.

    For $300, you can upload your own personal message to ArduSat, where it will be broadcast back to Earth from space for an entire day. ArduSat is in a polar orbit, so over the course of that day, it'll circle the Earth seven times and your message will be broadcast over the entire globe.

    -- Never gonna give you up... and also, what channels will this be using? How can I hear it?

    For $500, you can take advantage of the whole point of ArduSat and run your very own experiment for an entire week on a selection of ArduSat's sensors. You know, in space. Just to be clear, it's not like you're just having your experiment run on data that's coming back to Earth from the satellite. Rather, your experiment is uploaded to the satellite itself, and it's actually running on one of the Arduino boards on ArduSat real time, which is why there are so many identical boards packed in there.

    -- This would be great but again, no information on the sensors, quality and whether or not I can distribute my data.

    • - For the pictures, you're absolutely right, the image quality (and pointing accuracy) is what is going to determine if it's worth the $10 an image. We're booking a spot on a high-altitude balloon (about 100,000 feet) in September to test out the payload and cameras, so that people can see the quality and send us feedback. Unfortunately we won't have the results until after the Kickstarter, which sucks because we can't show people the images BEFORE they pledge, but needed to get the funding for the space-h

      • by guruevi ( 827432 )

        Great response, thanks. I eventually checked out your Kickstarter project and it's a lot better than what the summary or news articles make it out to be.

        Not necessarily want to poke holes at it but how much would it cost to get your own set of sensors on there and can the camera (and other devices) be pointed the other way (into space, not towards earth)? What would be really great is if you can get some type of radium clock on there. According to some earth-bound experiments, the sun influences the randomn

        • Thanks for checking out the page, I appreciate the comment! The nature of the project and the kind of coverage we've been getting is making people (understandably) wary, so I relish the chance to tell people more and show what we've actually doing.

          To get your own sensors on there, we're running a competition right now sponsored by Discover Magazine where anyone can suggest ideas for sensors to add to the satellite and what they would do with it if we flew it - if they pick your idea we'd put it up there

  • What if my experiment is to calculate the trajectory of a satellite to collide into the mouth of an active volcano ?.. I'm thinking after my first test run, it's not going to have much progress.
    • Hmm, we might need to let a few other people run their experiments first...

      A couple people have mentioned thrusters on the thread - sadly, we don't have any propulsion on the satellite, so although you can control the satellite's orientation, kamikaze missions might be a little hard.

      Cheers, Joel

There's no such thing as a free lunch. -- Milton Friendman