Science with SkyCube
Hello Team SkyCube!
SkyCube is - first and foremost - a mission of education and public outreach. But it also might just produce some real science. This update will focus on the scientific organizations whom we've contacted to share our project's benefits, and the results that it could generate.
Last week, we attended the annual conference of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific in Tucson, Arizona. Here are some of the non-profit organizations who expressed an interested in working with SkyCube from a scientific and educational perspective:
Seeing the Night Sky from the Other Side
At the ASP conference, representatives of the International Dark-Sky Association asked whether SkyCube might be useful to map out the extent of, and changes in, light pollution on the Earth's night side. Our honest answer, at the time, was: we don't know. However, we brought one of SkyCube's cameras aboard a night flight to San Francisco in an attempt to find out. This is what we discovered:
We were pleasantly surprised to discover that SkyCube's cameras are clearly able to record city lights at night, from miles above the Earth. With a little image processing, the details became clearer: the image at right shows how SkyCube's cameras recorded the Bay Area at night, below an airplane wing.
This opens the door to many other possibilities: mapping lightning, auroras, and other phenomena using SkyCube's cameras. In daylight, SkyCube might be used to observe weather patterns, deforestation, the ebb and flow of polar ice, pollution, oil spills, and other phenomena we haven't thought of yet.
Global Orbital Decay Mapping
The map below shows the locations of the ground stations operated by the MC3 network, and the approximate orbital path of SkyCube. The ellipse shows the area where SkyCube will be visible over the horizon at a particular time. As SkyCube moves, so does the area from which can be seen.
SkyCube will be out of view of all four ground stations for much of each orbit. Therefore, your observations will become useful for predicting and refining its orbital path. This is especially true after SkyCube's balloon inflates, making its orbit decay rapidly. You can let us know when you actually see SkyCube pass overhead, compared to our predictions. That tells us how much its orbit has changed. Your observations might generate a more accurate orbit for SkyCube than the Air Force - amateur satellite observers have done this before!
No one has ever deliberately de-orbited a CubeSat before. Your observations might just provide groundbreaking engineering data. And you might just catch the moment when SkyCube finally flashes into the upper atmosphere like a meteor, ending its mission!
A Bit of History
This is a life-sized model of Vanguard 1, launched in 1958. We took this picture on Monday, at the Small Satellite conference in Utah. The real Vanguard 1 is still up there - in fact, it's the oldest man-made object still in orbit!
Vanguard 1 was launched to study atmospheric drag and obtain geodetic measurements through orbit analysis. It was the size of a grapefruit - only slightly smaller than SkyCube - and much less capable.
You now have the chance to do science - personally - with a satellite more powerful than the first one the United States launched into orbit.
Into the Future
There's one more kind of science you might achieve with SkyCube: social science. Right now, SkyCube has almost ten thousand "likes" on Facebook:
If each of those Facebook "likes" becomes even just a $4 SkyCube sponsor, we'll be at the finish line.
So the questions are: what converted you from being someone who just heard about SkyCube, to someone who liked it, to someone who became part of the team that's actually putting it into orbit? Can you repeat that experiment with someone else? How fast can we grow? How far can we reach?
The answers are out there, waiting for you to discover. Go find them!
-Tim, Chris, Kevin, Tyler, Mark, David, David, Scott, and the rest of Team SkyCube.