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A nano-satellite that lets you take Earth images and "tweet" from space, then inflates a visible balloon, and de-orbits cleanly.
2,711 backers pledged $116,890 to help bring this project to life.

The Bottom Line

Posted by Tim DeBenedictis (Creator)

Hello, team SkyCube!

We presented our results so far at the Cal Poly CubeSat workshop last week. More on that below - but first, a mission update.

We've continued to send "deploy solar panels" commands to SkyCube from all ground stations when the satellite is passing over them. We've not yet gotten confirmation that this strategy has worked. One ground station is enhancing capabilities with a new 3-meter dish, and Saber Astro is installing new noise-reduction circuits. Though we're still awaiting results from those efforts, we remain hopeful because the communication we've had to date indicates that the electronics and power system are healthy.

Lessons from Cal Poly

At the Cal Poly workshop, it's became apparent that our experience is not unique. For example, of the 28 CubeSats deployed from last November's ORS-3 launch, half were never heard from in space, and at this point only 4 are still transmitting. One came back after a "winter vacation" where it went silent for 2-1/2 months!

CubeSat communication has proven to be more challenging than any of us expected when this project began 2 years ago. There isn't any global standard - rather a patchwork of different amateur and university programs that collaborate to varying degrees. For amateur CubeSats projects to succeed more frequently than they do now, this situation will have to change.

The Bottom Line

Our presentation at CubeSat was about the fiscal, rather than technical, challenges of running a CubeSat mission. Here's a picture that sums it up:

SkyCube total program costs to date
SkyCube total program costs to date

Hardware is only a small part of the total. Software, operations, and communications - i.e. the human expenses - far outweighed them, and are just as critical to the mission as the launch itself

We built two satellites. It make sense to orbit another after we fully understand, and can correct the problems with the first. And when we can fund it. The way forward with our space program - just as NASA's - will be determined by fiscal inputs as well as technical.

That's the most accurate picture I can give you at this time.


Charles Yaker, Christoph Laib, and 23 more people like this update.


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    1. Missing avatar

      Ryan on

      May we receive an update regardless of the outcome?

    2. Paris Charilaou on

      Do we have any news? So just now we wait until the coms magically get fixed or the satellite deorbits?

    3. josep saldaña cavallé on

      Hi Tim. LituanicaSAT-1, launched at same time than SkyCube, descended yesterday from orbit. Any update about SkyCube mission?

    4. Missing avatar

      SM on

      Hi, it's been a while - is there any chance that we'll still be able to get picures or broadcast texts?

    5. Missing avatar

      Greg Lynn on

      Any updates? Any way for ISS to get a visual on the cubesat?

    6. Missing avatar

      Chris Frederick on

      Tim, has there been any further contact with SkyCube since this update? Have you attempted yet to send it the "inflate balloon" command, and if so, was there any change in the orbit or other indication that the balloon deployment was successful? Based on the cubesat success rates that you shared in a previous update, I don't have any unreasonable expectations, but figured I'd ask anyway.

    7. Missing avatar

      Charles Yaker on

      Tim it's been awhile since your last update so if your getting discouraged just know that I am in to help funding the second go-round. My Contribution may not be much but I bet there are others like me.

    8. Rick Grzyb on

      i have been a bit slow on reading this but is there any more updates coming?

    9. Tim DeBenedictis Creator on

      Vaibhav - remember that Amazon & Kickstarter take 9% of the funds raised in kickstarter. That roughly $10K is part of the cost of the kickstarter, and is included in that total. Cost of rewards like T-shirts, model rockets, etc. is also included. Every trade show we attended since 2012 - the CubeSat workshop, SmallSat conferences, ettc. - is included as well: conference fees, travel, advertising materials, etc. Promoting the project, both during the kickstarter and after, was done through PR firms. Mention in the Wall Street Journal does not just happen on its own. These things add up. SkyCube was, from the outset, intended to be a profitable venture, as well as an educational one, and advertising is part of the cost of doing business.

    10. Vaibhav Puranik on

      Advertising: 40K? Why did you have to spend so much money on advertising?

    11. Tim DeBenedictis Creator on

      Bas - the latest versions of Satellite Safari (1.6.4 for iOS and Android) definitely do track SkyCube. Search for object 39567 or by name (SkyCube). it's in there.

    12. Missing avatar

      Bas on

      Hi Tim, thanks! Also for when you guys have the time: The update of Satellite Safari, is that easy to manage? Then we would at least know the whereabouts of our satellite. (If it's not easy to do, and you need your resources for managing the SkyCube itself, forget I asked.)

      Apart from that: Whatever will or will not work with SkyCube, I hope there will a sequel to this story. SkyCube Strikes Back, how is that for a title? ;) It is a production I would definitely back.

    13. Missing avatar

      Marco on

      Thank for your answers Tim. I have some other questions if you have the time.
      Do you have any idea about what may have failed (in order to correct this in a possible new satellite)?
      Could you get data form satellite at some point? It seems to me that at some point the transmitter worked because you talked about receiving the value of the time the satellite was on.
      When will the new ground station antenna de deployed (approximatively)?

      Keep listening, and good luck (again).

    14. Tim DeBenedictis Creator on

      All - thank you very much for the strong words of support. It's been a trying couple of weeks over here, and a lot of soul-searching has gone on. The vote of confidence goes a long way right now. Thanks again.

    15. Tim DeBenedictis Creator on

      Marco & Bas - without further comms from the satellite, it's impossible to know for sure what's going on. It's remotely possible that the transmit side of the radio has failed (or has gone very flaky), but the receive side is working - i.e. the satellite can hear us but not talk. The radio transmits and receives on different frequencies and there are two separate analog paths through the radio hardware. If we send "inflate balloon" commands and soon see a rapid orbit decay - or literally see the satellite - that would be strong evidence to support this theory. Bas - as hard as it is for us to accept this, you're probably correct that the messaging/imaging goals of SkyCube are not going to be achievable with comms in their current state. w/r/t the balloon - you're correct, if solar panels are stuck, the balloon will be very difficult to inflate. However we never tested this scenario on the ground, so what will actually happen is unknown. The balloon might just blow through the tie-lines restraining the panels. And - who knows - if the solar panels have actually deployed, but the problem is on the Tx side of the radio, then balloon inflation might just work. I don't want to raise false hopes here, but the truth is, at this point, we just don't know what will happen.

    16. Missing avatar

      Marco on

      So, is it possible for you to know if the solar panels are in fact deployed or not?
      Are you receiving telemetry of any kind from the satellite (I have seen about the uptime, but what about other data)?
      The antenna also need to be deployed along with the solar arrays or it is a separate mechanism (I may have skipped this information if you already posted it, sorry)?

      Anyway good luck, it seems like you still have a recovery chance with the new antenna

    17. Seeker on

      We are on board if needed!

    18. Missing avatar

      Bas on

      So we probably won't be able to send messages and take pictures with SkyCube, which is a pity of course. Still, you managed to bring it into orbit! Also, you have identified SkyCube and are able to track it's position. (Will you update Satellite Safari accordingly? Would be nice.) I think these are huge achievements. I also think many of us are willing to back you in the second effort. We all knew that succes was not guaranteed. That risk is part of an enterprise like this. So thank you for letting us be part of our own space adventure. And keep up!
      P.S. Will the problem with the solar panel also affect the possibility to deploy the balloon?

    19. Mark Cramer on

      I'll back you again.

    20. Andrew Taylor on

      Hey, live and learn. Does not sound like it is dead quite yet. But you created a second satellite, so we have a second chance! Learn what you can from this. See if you can drive some standards into a global community to provide a better chance at success and when ready, LAUNCH AGAIN!! ( I am ready to back you again. )

    21. faisal alblehed on

      in a way i am happy that i contributed in this learning experience and understanding more of the challenges faced in these projects