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NASA Space

Arduino Enables a Low-Cost Space Revolution 70

RocketAcademy writes "Arduino, the popular open-source microcontroller board, is powering a revolution in low-cost space-mission design. San Francisco-based Planet Labs, a spinoff of NASA's PhoneSat project, has raised $13 million to launch a flock of 28 Arduino-based nanosatellites for remote sensing. Planet Labs launched two test satellites this spring; Flock-1 is scheduled to launch on an Orbital Sciences Antares rocket in 2014. NanoSatisifi, also based in San Francisco-based company, is developing the Arduino-based ArduSat, which carries a variety of sensors. NanoSatisifi plans to rent time on ArduSats to citizen scientists and experimenters, who will be able upload their own programs to the satellites. The first ArduSat is scheduled for launch August 4 on a Japanese H-II Transfer Vehicle carrying supplies to the International Space Station. The cost of orbital launches remains a limiting factor, however. As a result, Infinity Aerospace has developed the Arduino-based ArduLab experiment platform, which is compatible with new low-cost suborbital spacecraft as well as higher-end systems such as the International Space Station. The non-profit Citizens in Space has purchased 10 flights on the XCOR Lynx spacecraft, which will be made available to the citizen-science community. Citizens in Space is looking for 100 citizen-science experiments and 10 citizen astronauts to fly as payload operators. To help spread the word, it is holding a Space Hacker Workshop in Dallas, Texas on July 20-21. Infinity Aerospace will be on hand to teach Arduino hardware and software."
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Arduino Enables a Low-Cost Space Revolution

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Which color LED, red, blue, or yellow, can be programmed to blink most rapidly in outer space?

    • Obviously, you need separate satellites for each color generated.

      This is just batches of more space junk.

      • Lightweight stuff, particularly stuff with large cross sections, only last a few months before the orbit decays and it burns up in the atmosphere.
  • troll (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 09, 2013 @11:24PM (#44233949)

    if you can afford to put something into orbit, maybe you can afford to pay a real C programmer

    • You could afford a real programmer, one that understands machine language. Every lair of abstraction ads complexity.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        There's all kinds of abstract dragons guarding undefined treasure in lairs of abstraction.

      • And you can probably afford a spell checker. Every lair contains a villain. Every layer adds complexity.

        • by EzInKy ( 115248 )

          My spell checker was written as an abstraction! Details such as synonmyms and antomyns are too complex too complex for it to compute.

          • by Anonymous Coward

            My spell checker was written as an abstraction! Details such as synonmyms and antomyns are too complex too complex for it to compute.

            Yeah, but what about homophones?

        • Dragons typically live in lairs, why not lairs of abstraction?

          "Quest to find the Lair of Abstraction! Undefined treasures await you in this thrilling new module set in the World of Greyhawk."
          - a Gary Gygax production

      • That is why all the old guys at NASA always impressed the hell out of me, the amount of work they could get out of such weak hardware was frankly AMAZING, can you even imagine what a Phenom X6 or i7 could do running nothing but machine code? Hell everyone should try that little OS made in machine code "Kolibri OS" IIRC as you can take a 1GHz P3 and it'll just smoke many modern systems thanks to how close to bare metal that thing runs, its just nuts how bloated all the OSes and programs are now compared to w
  • ... I guess you can always use weedkiller for artistic purposes [], and photograph it from space.

  • Real Science? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by thesupraman ( 179040 ) on Tuesday July 09, 2013 @11:40PM (#44234031)

    Waiting for the real science to begin in 3...2... oh wait, never?

    Really, what exactly do they think these are actually useful for except for adding 'In Space' to a bunch of
    college programming projects? As these dont even use radiation hardened electronics of any ECC, I
    suspect investigating failure modes will be their main use.

    Come on, the world is full of useful and interesting things to do, this just aint one of them people!

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Not all of these things actually go to space. Balloons are pretty good about fault tolerance.

      • Balloons don't provide much radiation protection to the electronics in the payloads they carry. It's somewhere on the order of none at all.
    • If they want a professional space product using AVR, then there are many many boards that can do this, or they can design their own. Arduino is specifically designed for learning projects. Sure you can buy Arduino and then dump the dumbed down programming environment, but then why not pick a better or cheaper board? It seems "Arduino" is used by a lot of people as a synonym for "8-bit processor on a board that has ADC and GPIO".

    • Re:Real Science? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Techman83 ( 949264 ) on Wednesday July 10, 2013 @01:23AM (#44234589)

      I'd suggest watching the talk from LCA 2013. Video here []. I went along and found it quite interesting. Puts Orbital science experimentation into the hands of people that would have never been able to afford it previously.

      But I'm seaminly responding to another trollish post with a +4 Insightful. Imagine a class room full of students excited about science because their teacher organised for a bunch of their projects to go up into space, and that drives them to further that knowledge and go on to become successful scientists. No, there is no useful purpose for this project at all

    • by Anonymous Coward

      They'll be operating in LEO [], at 400KM where the ISS (International Space Station) is. Radiation hardening isn't as much of an issue in LEO. Companies and education institutions are using COTS (Commercial Of The Shelf) parts more and more for LEO satellites with great success.

      • by gl4ss ( 559668 )

        it's even less of an issue on altitudes xcor lynx goes to.. if any. it hasn't flown yet has it?

    • In low orbit you don't need proper radiation hardening.

      Since you're still within the earth's magnetic field (and technically the atmosphere), a little bit of shielding goes a long way.

      I also didn't see anything about Planet Lab's Flock-1 being Arduino based.
      Not in TFA and not on their website or press kit.

    • Well, some people think that global monitoring of crop patterns, rainfall, land usage, climactic shifts, etc. is useful science.

      If you don't, that's okay.

  • A cheap computer not necessarily maketh a cheap satellite.

    There is lots more than that; solar panels, batteries, regulators, rotation / positioning thrusters, antennas. Then there is temperature management and the housing of the whole thing.

    I guess the low power consumption leads to low weight which in turn leads to a cheaper launch cost.

  • In the end, mother naure will get her revenge. These things won't last long in space.
  • by drwho ( 4190 ) on Wednesday July 10, 2013 @01:30AM (#44234623) Homepage Journal

    Nowhere do I see mention of these arduinos being special, radiation-hardened versions. Nowhere, is there mention about extended temperature range, vibration, etc. These are all important if the mission is expected to succeed. Sure, it might be reasonable to expect a certain fatality rate among a flock of launched devices, and do cost accounting to figure out what tradeoffs can be made. I find it difficult, however, to believe that the current cost of launch, by weight, is lower than the cost of providing reliable hardware.

    This is not meant to slight Arduino. I think it's great, but it's made to be a low-cost solution for instances where there is not much demand for reliability, and certainly not for such places where there is a demand for reliability under difficult circumstances. This project is a mistake, a waste of money, and courting disaster. I wish that all of those who had senior authority to approve this project to get fired, and to spend some time in hell (Hell is pretty bad. So, on the scale of things, about twenty minutes should do).

    • by gl4ss ( 559668 )

      this kind of use is stupid for "arduino".

      what the fuck does the satellite need the usb comms still attached to them? and without them the boards are just atmel avr boards with a bunch of kilobytes of the flash totally fucking wasted in this application.

    • "Nowhere do I see mention of these arduinos being special, radiation-hardened versions. Nowhere, is there mention about extended temperature range, vibration, etc. These are all important if the mission is expected to succeed." Most small satellites do not use radiation-hardened components. Rad-hard chips provide 1/10 the power at 10 times the price, and thet aren't available when you need them. Generally, they're made to order with long lead times. It's generally easier to add a watchdog circuit to reboo
      • You are strangely ignorant of the problems. Radiation hardening isn't the only problem, and radiation hardening does NOT mean long lead times or ultra expensive components. In the grand scheme of things and off the shelf 486 chip these days can almost be considered "radiation hardened" due to the low count and large size of transistors, and type of technology used back them. A stock standard ATMEL microcontroller on the other hand designed to be as small and cheap as possible with the lowest size die and th

        • You are strangely ignorant [...] and off the shelf 486 chip these days can almost be considered "radiation hardened" due to the low count and large size of transistors,

          You are strangely ignorant if you don't know that Intel has long been producing genuinely radiation hardened x86 processors for the space program. It wasn't long ago they introduced the hardened Pentium, which AFAIK is about the most powerful hardened processor available so far. They were radiation hardening processors before the 486 was even a thing, before they even could make such fine features, because that most certainly is not sufficient radiation hardening.

          • You missed my point. You don't necessarily need genuine radiation hardening, but a basic choice of commodity electronics can make for something FAR more durable than an Arduino.

        • radiation hardening does NOT mean long lead times or ultra expensive components.

          NASA are not idiots you're right, they also don't build microsatellites with off the shelf arduinos.

          You need to do some research. NASA just successfully launched two PhoneSat satellites this year, which use Arduino as part of a watchdog circuit. They plan on flying more in the future.

          Planet Labs was founded by two of the lead engineers who built PhoneSat. The founders of Nanosatisfi worked at NASA Ames, where PhoneSat was built, and EADS Astrium, a major satellite manufacturer.

          Just because something appears in a parts catalog doesn't mean it's available for overnight shipping. You'll find that out if

        • Even SpaceX does not use rad-hard components [] because of the expensive.
  • I'm sure some Googling could find me some basics, but this would be a great chance to hear anecdotally from people who work on this stuff daily - how big of an issue is radiation and the hardening for circuits? What kinds of damage/effects are you having to counter, and how do you go about fixing it? There was a story floating around last month of the phone-based projects that are being launched. Are there certain zones or ranges in the magnetosphere where the radiation hits harder, or becomes a non-issue?
    • Radiation is a serious issue and can corrupt the stored program as well as runtime operation. Commercial devices will not last long in space. Even plastics degrade and shrink in space, due to evaporation of volatiles so the connectors will fall apart after a while. Another issue is the launch phase. The vibration of a rocket system is extreme and parts can break off the boards. Conformally coating the electronics and gluing down all heavy parts with RTV will make it last a little longer. Don't expect
  • None of our spacecraft or ground equipment is based on Arduino.
    • by esden ( 144537 )

      Thanks for correcting this. I guess the source should be informed that they are spreading false information too.

Logic is the chastity belt of the mind!