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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.

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Waiting for Godot

Posted by Tim DeBenedictis (Creator)

Last week, we received a great picture from Nanoracks:

Astronaut Koichi Wakata floats inside ISS next to the NRCSD with SkyCube inside!
Astronaut Koichi Wakata floats inside ISS next to the NRCSD with SkyCube inside!

That’s astronaut Koichi Wakata, floating inside the International Space Station, next to the Nanoracks CubeSat Deployer, which contains SkyCube. That’s where your satellite has been waiting for the past 6 weeks since launch.

Before you ask “Where can I submit my tweet and image requests” - the answer is: “You can’t … yet.” The picture above is the reason why. As I’ve said all along, we’ll begin accepting those requests after the satellite is deployed and confirmed working on orbit. And that hasn’t happened quite yet.

In the meantime, we’ve been doing anything but waiting.

Ground Software Update

I’d like to introduce Robert Olivier. Robert joined the team last October, initially to develop a quick-and-dirty platform to let us test SkyCube with the MC3 and Saber Astro ground stations. Robert did such a good job that we retained him to redevelop our entire server infrastructure. Over the past few months, he’s done this. And last tuesday, we tested Robert’s rebuilt system with our spare satellite, “Omega”, at the MC3 ground station at the Naval Postgraduate School. By the end of the day, Robert’s server was transmitting commands and images reliably through MC3, to the ground station several miles away.

The MC3 and Saber Astro ground stations that SkyCube will talk to.
The MC3 and Saber Astro ground stations that SkyCube will talk to.

Based on other CubeSat teams’ experience, we expect to spend the first few weeks after deployment seeing how well the entire system actually performs on orbit. It’s a bit nerve-wracking; half of the 28 CubeSats deployed on the ORS-3 “warmup” launch last November have not yet been heard from in space. Odds like that do not engender confidence. Yet we have every reason to believe SkyCube will work. It passed all of our preflight tests and comm checks; and the “spare” unit is also communicating well.

But we expect that those first moments, listening for responses to the initial commands we transmit, will be pretty tense.  Eat lots of peanuts.

Introducing SeeDeR

Desktop PCs are now fast enough to record and process digitized radio samples, the same way they revolutionized digital audio processing and sound editing in the 1990s. Radio operates at much higher frequencies than audio, and so requires a lot more CPU power to process. Over the past few years, a small revolution in software defined radio (SDR) has taken place. Open-source software transforms inexpensive USB TV and FM radio tuners for desktop computers into general-purpose SDR devices.

SeeDeR is the brainchild of Team SkyCube’s own Scott Cutler. It began in 2012 as an experiment to see if these sub-$20 USB SDR devices could decode AX.25 data transmissions from SkyCube’s radio. And they worked! In the 18 months since, Scott has added many features to SeeDeR - a graphical user interface with a spectrum analyzer and “waterfall” diagram, support for many more USB SDR hardware devices, an automatic doppler-shift correction algorithm, and a full-blown Windows installer.

An overview of SeeDeR's GUI, by Scott Cutler
An overview of SeeDeR's GUI, by Scott Cutler

At our radio test last week, SeeDeR easily decoded AX.25 data transmissions from SkyCube’s twin, “omega”, at a couple miles’ range, using a 900 MHz Yagi antenna costing under $100. Signal levels suggest that the same system should work at orbital range. We’re not the only CubeSat team experimenting with this kind of technology: in the UK, the FunCube-1 CubeSat (AO-73) has been transmitting signals to radio amateurs around the world, who are listening with a similar USB software defined radio called the FunCube Dongle. (SeeDeR supports the FunCube dongle, by the way!)

We’re very close to releasing a public beta version of SeeDeR. To give it a spin, you’ll need a Windows PC, a USB SDR device (either FunCube Dongle, BladeRF, or RTL-SDR), and an antenna. If you’re interested in helping beta test, send Scott an email.


We’re getting very close. I hope you’re as excited as we are. The moment of truth is coming soon.

Best wishes,

-Tim, Scott, Rouslan, Robert, Mark, and everyone else over at Team SkyCube.

Welcome to ISS

Posted by Tim DeBenedictis (Creator)

The Cygnus cargo craft carrying SkyCube to the International Space Station arrived this morning at 8:05 AM EST today. The Nanoracks CubeSat deployers containing our satellite will be transferred by the ISS crew from Cygnus to the Multipurpose Logistics Module (PMLM), and will be stored there until deployment.

Here’s how the capture looked this morning:

The ISS will be our home for the next few months. You might get to know it! It’s the largest, most massive, and longest continuously-occupied structure in orbit. We thought it might be fun to provide a quick factual comparison between SkyCube, and the station it now occupies.

First, a visual comparison:

The International Space Station - typical view
The International Space Station - typical view
SkyCube in packed-for-launch configuration - typical view.
SkyCube in packed-for-launch configuration - typical view.

Here's how the facts and figures stack up:

Station: 357 x 239 x 167 feet (109 x 73 x 51 m)
SkyCube: 4.5 x 3.9 x 2.9 inches (113 x 100 x 100 mm) 

Station: 924,000 lbs (420 metric tons) 
SkyCube: 2.9 lbs (1.3 kg)

Station: Pressurized, 32,000 cu ft (388 cu m) 
SkyCube: Unpressurized, 0.019 cu ft (0.001 cu m)

Solar Arrays
Station: 8 panels, 73 m length, total area ~1 acre (0.4 hectare)
SkyCube: 9 panels, 113 mm length, total area approx 76 sq. inch (492 sq cm)

Solar Power Generation
Station: 84,000 watts
SkyCube: 3.6 watts

Lines of Computer Code
Station: ~2.3 million
SkyCube: ~13,000

Operational Lifetime
Station: 30 years (launched 1998; certified thru 2028; funded thru 2024)
SkyCube: 90 days

Total Cost to Date
Station: approx. USD $160,000,000,000
SkyCube: approx. USD $255,000

Go See ISS!

If you’ve grabbed the latest version of our Satellite Safari app from the iTunes Store or Google Play, you can use it to see the ISS pass overhead in the night sky. This is good practice for the last phase of SkyCube’s mission, when we inflate SkyCube’s balloon to make it briefly visibile before it de-orbits.

1) Search for “ISS.” (Without the quotes, duh.)
2) The data table shows when it will pass over your location. Many passes are not visible because they take place in daylight or while the ISS is eclipsed in Earth’s shadow.
3) Scroll down to find a visible pass.  Get ready.

Satellite Safari's Info view shows ISS pass times.
Satellite Safari's Info view shows ISS pass times.

When the pass time arrives, you can use Satellite Safari - and your iPhone or Android’s compass - to find ISS (and SkyCube!) in the sky.

1) Make sure time is current! If not, tap “Time” in the main toolbar, then “Now.”
2) Tilt your iPhone or Android up at the sky, to turn on its compass.
3) Follow the ISS orbit with your phone to the ISS itself. Wait and watch as it passes across the sky.

Tilt your phone up at the sky to use its compass for finding ISS
Tilt your phone up at the sky to use its compass for finding ISS

If you haven’t run the app in a while, let it update its orbit data from The ISS moves frequently, to avoid space debris, and is periodically reboosted. Satellite Safari updates its orbit data automatically every time you start it. You can also force an orbit data update at the bottom of the Settings screen. Updating takes about a minute.

Also make sure you've got the very latest app version (1.5 for iOS, 1.5.2 for Android). Earlier versions do not support the compass.

Best viewing times are just after dusk or just before dawn. Clear skies, and happy station spotting! Remember - this isn’t just cool. One day, if all goes well, you’ll use the same technique to spot SkyCube.

Aloha from Lanai, Hawaii,


We Have Liftoff!

Posted by Tim DeBenedictis (Creator)


SkyCube is now in orbit.  Today, January 9th, 2014, at 1:07 PM Eastern Standard Time, an Antares rocket built by Orbital Sciences Corporation launched successfully from Wallops Island, Virginia, USA, carrying SkyCube and many other satellites to the International Space Station.

If you missed it, here's how the launch looked from the press site:

Antares/Cygnus Orb-1 Launch from Wallops Island, 9 Jan 2014
Antares/Cygnus Orb-1 Launch from Wallops Island, 9 Jan 2014

More images are available from Orbital's web site.

Here's an HD video capture of NASA TV's launch coverage:

What Comes Next?

Over the next 3 days, the Cygnus cargo craft will chase down the International Space Station.  Cygnus is expected to berth at ISS during the early morning (approximately 4:00 AM EST) on Sunday, January 12th.

We'll keep you posted.  Today's been a very, very good day.  Thanks to all of you who've made this possible.

Aloha and Mahalo,


Launch ... Tomorrow?

Posted by Tim DeBenedictis (Creator)


We've been through this before, but it looks like Orbital is going to launch the Antares/Cygnus vehicle carrying SkyCube imminently - perhaps tomorrow!

The extremely cold weather on the USA's east coast is still a concern, so Thursday Jan 9th is also a possible date.  In both cases, this will be a daytime launch, taking place around 1:30 PM Eastern Standard Time.

The best way to stay informed about the launch is to regularly check Orbital's web site:

If you won't be there to watch in person, you can catch it on NASA TV's UStream HD channel:

We'll be waiting ... and watching too.  Fingers crossed.

-Tim, Scott, Rouslan, Mark, Kevin, Robert / Team SkyCube

Launch in January

Posted by Tim DeBenedictis (Creator)


It's been a very strange day.  When we got up this morning, we read that Orbital rolled the Antares launch vehicle out to the pad in anticipation of a Thursday night launch.  We boarded out flights to Norfolk, Virginia - and made it as far as Chicago - when we got the news that NASA has officially moved the launch to January, 2014.

Here are details on Orbital's web site:

Here's the New York Times coverage:

We're all back home now, after a day of flying in a very big circle.  We wish our astronauts on board the ISS the best of luck on their upcoming spacewalks to repair the problem that led to today's delay.  We're disappointed that our launch will take longer, but human safety comes first.

And we wish all of you the warmest, most enjoyable holiday season you can possibly have.  Best wishes,

-Tim, Scott, Rouslan, Mark, Robert, and the rest of Team SkyCube