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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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Launch Update

Posted by Tim DeBenedictis (Creator)
28 likes

Here's an update on the Orb-1 launch which will carry SkyCube to the International Space Station very soon.

Right now, launch is scheduled for Wednesay, December 18th, 2013, at 9:42 PM Eastern Standard Time. However, yesterday we got word from NASA that the recent problem with the ammonia pump aboard ISS "has the potential to impact the Antares launch schedule for Orbital’s first CRS mission to the Station", and that a go-or-no-go decision will come by Monday, December 16th. So stay tuned - we'll know more by Monday.

We're keeping our fingers crossed for a Wednesday night launch.

Launch Viewing

If you're on the east coast of the USA, anywhere from New York to North Carolina, you should be able to see it live (weather permitting).  Here's a great launch viewing map, provided by Orbital Sciences:

Orb-1 Launch Viewing Map
Orb-1 Launch Viewing Map

If you're located elsewhere, you can catch the launch on NASA TV, or on UStream (click either link). Orbital's mission summary, with launch status updates, viewing maps, and more, is located here:

http://www.orbital.com/NewsInfo/MissionUpdates/Orb-1/

Your Tweets and Images

Many of you have asked when you can submit your tweet and image requests "for real".  The answer is: after SkyCube deploys from ISS, which will happen some time in spring, 2014.  We know you're itching to submit them!  But it doesn't make sense to accept requests until we know when SkyCube is actually operating on-orbit.

However, we can tell you this.

Before we delivered SkyCube to Houston, we pre-loaded its flash memory with the names of every single SkyCube project sponsor from Kickstarter and elsewhere.  The first tweets that SkyCube will broadcast after it deploys into orbit next year will be your names - all 3,287 of them.  It's our way of saying thanks.  And if nothing else goes right after that, all of you will be remembered in AX.25-encoded 915 MHz radio transmissions that travel out to the edge of the universe, forever. :-)

Let the countdown begin.  And happy holidays!

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

Warming Up

Posted by Tim DeBenedictis (Creator)
27 likes

Things are really starting to happen now. Nanoracks recently posted a picture of SkyCube and five other satellites integrated into the CubeSat deployer that will be launched to ISS next month:

[SkyCube in the Nanoracks CubeSat deployer]
[SkyCube in the Nanoracks CubeSat deployer]

After all the work that went into it, we were really excited to see this picture. (Hint: SkyCube is the only 1U CubeSat in this picture with deployable solar panels.)

Meanwhile, Down Under...

SkyCube's twin, "Omega", is in Sydney, Australia right now. The good folks at Saber Astronautics are working with Omega to make it talk to their ground station. Having a ground station on the other side of the world from the US increases SkyCube's availability on orbit by 50%.

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

News flash: we just got this email from Sydney a few minutes ago:

We have successfully communicated with the satellite radio, and we have successfully tested receiving with our radio, demodulating the broadcast, and removing the AX.25 framing, so we have the AES encrypted blob at the end. (We can confirm that the receipt is byte-for-byte correct by comparison with the C2RadioTest tool).

ORS-3: The Warmup Launch

Two days from now, a Minotaur rocket will launch from the Mid Atlantic Regional Spaceport in Wallops Island, Virginia. This mission is named ORS-3, and it will carry 28 CubeSats into orbit. It's a "warmup" for our launch in December. Two of those cubesats will utliize the same C2 radio onboard SkyCube. For more information about this "preview" launch, click here.

What's Next

We're looking forward to our own launch in December! Right now, it's scheduled for the evening of December 15th. It'll be a night launch. If you're almost anywhere on the east coast of the USA, you should be able to see it (weather permitting).

Here's a photo of the LADEE launch from Wallops in September, taken from New York City:

[LADEE launch from Wallops Is., VA, 6 Sept 2013, seen from New York City]
[LADEE launch from Wallops Is., VA, 6 Sept 2013, seen from New York City]

If all goes as planned, the Cygnus cargo craft carrying SkyCube will dock at the ISS 3 days later. Then, sometime between January and June, 2014, SkyCube will be kicked off the ISS into its own orbit. After that point, you'll be able to submit your real tweets from space and image requests via mobile app and web site. We don't know the timing of SkyCube's deployment from ISS yet - that's why Satellite Safari doesn't contain these functions now. We'll release them in the app when the satellite is actually able to deliver them from orbit.

We're as ready to see this happen as you are, and we'll keep you posted. Fingers crossed for a successful launch from Wallops on Tuesday - and again in December.

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

The Decision

Posted by Tim DeBenedictis (Creator)
38 likes

It's been far too long since I've updated you.  Rest assured, it's not because we haven't been busy - in fact quite the opposite!

A number of you have emailed me recently to ask how it's going. You wanted an answer to the "big question" posed in our last update (in July!) of when SkyCube is going to launch. The facts are finally in, and I won't keep you waiting.

SkyCube will be delivered to Houston for launch on December 15th, 2013 from Wallops Island, VA on the first Orbital Sciences commercial resupply mission to the International Space Station.

Here are the reasons we made this decision.

1) Orbital Sciences just completed its first Antares/Cygnus demonstration mission to the ISS successfully. Orbital's proven that its rocket - while perhaps not carrying SpaceX name-brand recognition - can deliver the goods.

[Above: the Antares/Cygnus D1 launch on Sept. 18 from Wallops Island.]
[Above: the Antares/Cygnus D1 launch on Sept. 18 from Wallops Island.]

You can read all about the successful Antares/Cygnus D1 mission here:
http://www.spaceflightnow.com/antares/cots1/131022departure/#.Um2BqBbHKgE

2) Over the summer, we rebuilt SkyCube and rewrote its firmware from scratch. Exactly one month ago, our balloon expert Mark Caviezel repaired the inflator hardware and repack the balloon. Since then, we've tested the rebuilt SkyCube every way we can. We ran it in a freezer on dry ice overnight. We baked it in a kitchen oven. We ran it in hard vaccuum at 200 degrees F for 6+ hours. We vibed it to NASA GEVS standards much harsher than any vibration/shock levels it's likely to actually experience during launch, and shipped it back and forth to Houston multiple times. SkyCube has passed every test, not experiencing a single reboot, reset, loose screw, failed image, or unexpected deployment. I don't know how much more ready our satellite can be.

[Above: Tim, Mark's wife Johanna, Scott, and Mark at Tech Shop in San Jose after rebuilding SkyCube's balloon, 28 Sept 2013.]
[Above: Tim, Mark's wife Johanna, Scott, and Mark at Tech Shop in San Jose after rebuilding SkyCube's balloon, 28 Sept 2013.]

3) My biggest concern all along has been with our ground communication network, MC3. The absolute worst moment came just as we were finishing our redesigned ground software. The government shut down - and everyone running the MC3 ground stations was furloughed before we could test our new software and rebuilt satellite with them. Everyone's back now, and after many long nights in Monterey during the past two weeks, we've successfully demonstrated sending images to and from SkyCube across many miles - and across our internet server that MC3 will connect to. All tests succeeded, and SkyCube's redesigned antenna gives a signal 4x stronger than the original we tested back in April.

[Above: test image of the Monterey coastline taken 25 Oct 2013 by SkyCube's narrow angle from the top of Jack's Peak, radioed though MC3 to my laptop through our internet relay server - and then uploaded through MC3 back to SkyCube again!]
[Above: test image of the Monterey coastline taken 25 Oct 2013 by SkyCube's narrow angle from the top of Jack's Peak, radioed though MC3 to my laptop through our internet relay server - and then uploaded through MC3 back to SkyCube again!]

Furthermore, MC3 will get some operational experience very soon. The upcoming November 19th ORS-3 launch, also from Wallops Island, VA, will carry two NPS CubeSats into orbit with exactly the same AstroDev C2 radio aboard SkyCube. Those satellites will be controlled from MC3 for several months before SkyCube deploys from ISS.

4) In the end, the final decision on what payloads manifest to the International Space Station, and where they launch from, isn't made by us - nor by Spaceflight Services (who have been stellar throughout this whole experience), nor by Nanoracks - but by NASA. And NASA, for its own reasons, decided that all Nanoracks payloads are going to launch on Orbital Sciences vehicles. Jeff Manber, CEO of Nanoracks, has explained the situation in letter to all you. You can read it here.

http://www.southernstars.com/skycube/files/SkyCube-Nanoracks-Letter.pdf

If we waited until the next Cygnus/Antares launch, in May, it's likely that SkyCube would not deploy from ISS until late summer, 2014 - perhaps even as long as a year from now. Nobody wanted to wait that long.

A Few Special Thanks

There are few people whom, in particular, I'd like to thank for their help during the very challenging summer. These people are the individuals most responsible for getting SkyCube back on track:

  • Adam Hadaller and Curt Blake of Spaceflight Services. Adam and Curt were instrumental in facilitating communication and negotiation through the process.
  • Kirk Woellert of Nanoracks. Kirk became our new technical liason to Nanoracks, and delivered a level of personal care, communication, and attention to detail which we had not seen before.
  • Giovanni Minelli at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey. Gio pulled many strings, and worked patiently with us for many hours while we sorted out the last kinks in our MC3 communication architecture - in spite of a government shutdown.
  • Scott Cutler and Rouslan Dimitrov of Team SkyCube. Last but far, far, far from least: these two put in many long, long hours, far above and beyond the call of duty, to rebuild SkyCube's electronics and firmware over the past few months. They delivered a far more reliable satellite than the one that went into Nanoracks safety review in May. Hands-down, Scott and Rouslan are the true unsung heroes of this project.

Last Words

For those of you expecting a Florida launch (and that includes us!) there will be some disappointment. But hopefully that will be less than the disappointment of waiting another 6 - 12 months before SkyCube is on orbit. Keep in mind that the new Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport in Virginia has had quite a few successful launches in recent months, and will be a brand new experience for all of us.

Let's light this candle.

-Tim

The Waiting Game

Posted by Tim DeBenedictis (Creator)

A situation has arisen regarding our launch schedule, and we'd like your input.

Our launch contract specifies a launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida to the International Space Station on the SpaceX CRS-3 mission. We learned recently that NASA has re-manifested SkyCube – and all of Nanoracks’ CRS-3 payloads - on a different launch: the maiden launch of Orbital Sciences Corp's Cygnus/Antares vehicle. This is a different launch provider, and Cygnus is a new vehicle with an unproven track record. The launch will not take place from Florida, but from NASA's little known Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, in a wetland area 2 hours from civilization.

The SpaceX CRS-3 launch is still scheduled to take place, one day later, from Florida. We don't expect this will actually happen. Rather, we suspect that NASA is hedging its bets. If Orbital has difficulties meeting its launch schedule, NASA will launch the SpaceX vehicle instead on December 9th. But if Orbital succeeds, then the SpaceX CRS-3 launch will likely get moved to early 2014. This is purely our own speculation, not based on information provided to us by the launch providers. And we likely won't know the outcome until late September.

Getting accurate and timely information has been challenging. The only organization that has consistently provided stellar service throughout this experience has been Spaceflight Services. Spaceflight has repeatedly provided options, facilitated communication, and offered useful compromises to resolve difficult situations. I cannot recommend them more highly.

Spaceflight has offered us a new choice: launch on SpaceX CRS-4, from Florida, in Q2 2014. This option has some advantages:

  • It gets us back into a reliable SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle, still going to ISS. 
  • Visiting Cape Canaveral is a beautifully nostalgic experience. Some of you will be traveling to witness the launch in person, and we can share that experience with you.
  • More time allows for longer and more rigorous testing of SkyCube, and more time to prove out our ground network.

We would like hear your preferences, too. If you feel strongly about one of the following choices, please let us know.

1) Launch on or about December 8th, from a swamp in Virginia, on a relatively unknown and unproven vehicle, or

2) Launch next spring/summer on a SpaceX Falcon 9 with a proven track record, from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Media Update

We exhibited SkyCube, SkySafari, and Satellite Safari at two conferences last week in San Jose: the 125th annual meeting of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, and the Space Frontier Foundation's New Space Conference 2013. You can hear audio of our radio interview at New Space with KCRW by clicking here. The interview also includes a conversation with Bas Lansdorp of Mars-One.

At New Space, we had the good fortune to meet the Mach 30 foundation. We discovered that Mach 30’s open-source ground station is capable of receiving SkyCube’s tweets from space! We took this discovery live on stage, and performed a demo with Nanoracks’ Richard Pournelle transmitting a SkyCube tweet (“Welcome to the Revolution!”) to Mach 30’s ground station. In coming months, we hope to share more about this unexpected development with you. It could provide another low-cost option for sharing messages from our satellite.

A Final Plug

Our Satellite Safari and SkySafari apps for iOS and Android are still on sale for one more day in support of the New Space Conference. You can pick up either app at 40% off you haven’t already.

Satellite Safari for iOS:
https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/satellite-safari/id616134944?ls=1&mt=8

Satellite Safari for Android:
https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.southernstars.satellite_safari

Thank very much - and keep looking up. "Success", as Winston Churchill once wrote, "is stumbling from failure to failure without loss of optimism."

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

Back in Business

Posted by Tim DeBenedictis (Creator)

We apologize for the unusually long delay between updates. You should take this as a sign that we've been very, very busy! Here's what's happening with SkyCube, and what you need to know.

Introducing skycube.org

When you sponsored SkyCube last summer, one of your most common requests was the ability to gift some (or all) of your satellite messages and images to another person. Now, you can do that! Point your web browser at:

http://www.southernstars.com/skycube/manage.html

You'll find a web page where you can log in to manage your SkyCube sponsor account and send gifts. You can't actually submit tweets and images just yet; we'll offer that once SkyCube is in orbit later this year. But we're building the functionality that you asked for.

Most importantly, we're now accepting new sponsors! Many people who missed the original SkyCube kickstarter campaign have asked us if they can join Team SkyCube, and now there's a way for them to do so. For details, go to:

skycube.org

Pass it on!

Back from Houston

During May, SkyCube "Alpha" was in Houston with our new launch provider, Nanoracks, undergoing its NASA safety review. We're pleased to announced that the review is complete, and that our primary satellite is now back with us.

Nanoracks has asked for a few minor changes - mainly, rewiring one of our deployment switches, and beefing up the nylon lines that restrain our solar panels and balloon box lid. We're very impressed with the thoroughness of their review. In the end, it's made SkyCube a stronger, safer satellite.

Launch is still scheduled for the end of November, 2013.

Media Updates

May was a busy month for our media outreach efforts. KGO-TV, the ABC San Francisco Bay Area affiliate station, aired the world's first network TV news coverage of the SkyCube project on May 9th. Here's the story:

Click this link to view the YouTube video (3 min).

Sky & Telescope magazine interviewed us extensively at the North East Astronomy Forum (NEAF) in Suffern, NY on April 23rd. NEAF is amateur astronomy's biggest trade show, and the interview went live on May 21st. Here's a YouTube video:

Click this link to view the YouTube video (21 min).

Team SkyCube also made an appearance at Maker Faire in San Mateo on May 17th, demonstrating "tweets from space" before a live audience for the first time!

This amusing shot is of Peter Plazer, leader of the ArduSat kickstarter campaign and of NanoSatisfi, helping me (Tim) demonstrate SkyCube's deployment from an ISIPOD test deployer.  Teamwork, indeed!

Changing of the Guard

Life brings changes, and SkyCube's lead firmware engineer Chris Phoenix is moving on to new adventures in audio and 3D printing. Chris did a fantastic job sculpting SkyCube's onboard firmware, and eliminating bugs from the system. His efforts will be missed!

Following in his footsteps, we'd like to welcome our new lead firmware engineer David Oberbeck. David has extensive experience in embedded software development, and was involved in the Iridium communications satellite project. We're excited to have David on the team!

Planetary Resources and the Arkyd

In case you haven't heard the news - Planetary Resources, the asteroid mining startup founded by Peter Diamandis and Google billionaire Sergei Brin, have launched the biggest crowdfunded space mission of all time: the Arkyd-100 space telescope.

Drawing on many of the same themes that you, Team SkyCube, pioneered, the Arkyd Kickstarter has raised over $800,000 to develop the world's first personal space telescope. Check it out!

Didn't Get T-shirt?

Although most of you recieved your SkyCube T-shirts last October, it's clear that a few have gotten lost in the mail, particularly to addresses outside the United States. If you have not received your SkyCube T-shirt yet, please let us know.

And let us know if you have any trouble logging into your brand new SkyCube sponsor account. We're really looking forward to delivering your rewards!

All the best,

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