The Bottom Line
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:
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.