Hello Team SkyCube!
We hit a major milestone this week. SkyCube has been delivered to Houston. it's now with Nanoracks, awaiting its final tests and NASA safety review. Meanwhile, we're taking a much-needed break. This update will show you more about our radio, and give you a chance to meet the team.
NASA has moved the SpaceX CRS-3 launch to November 28th, 2013. We've got plenty to keep busy with between now and then, so this little breather is coming at the right time.
Fremont Peak Radio Test
On April 18th, we performed a radio test of the nearly-complete SkyCube from the top of Fremont Peak, California, communicating directly with the main MC3 ground station 35 miles away at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey. Here's a YouTube video which shows you how the test looked:
As the video shows, it was a success! Although my cell phone had trouble getting a signal up there, the MC3 ground station in Monterey heard our satellite loud and clear. The satellite's internal received-signal-strength indicator showed that the MC3 radio coming from Monterey was also loud-and-clear. The occasional dropouts seen in the video above later turned out to be due to interference from the TV towers behind the Peak.
There are some differences between this test environment and true orbit-to-ground communication. The satellite is a lot closer to the ground station. But on the other hand, the MC3 antennas are pointing horizontally across the ground, through other sources of RF interference. After reviewing the data, the experts at NPS tell us that SkyCube will be able to communicate easily with their network from orbit.
Meet the Team
Now that you've seen our hardware, we'd like to tell you a little more about the people who designed it, put it together, and made it work.
Kevin Brown (right) is the mastermind behind Astronautical Development, LLC. We found Kevin through prof. Bob Twiggs, who pioneered the CubeSat standard at Stanford University more than 10 years ago; AstroDev is now closely associated with the Kentucky Space program at Morehead, KY, where Prof. Twiggs now resides. Kevin's radios have flown on more CubeSats than any other small satellite vendor. Boeing chose Kevin's design for the Colony-2 CubeSat bus, and the radio which SkyCube is using with the US Navy's MC3 Network. JPL chose AstroDev's radios for its upcoming INSPIRE mission, which will be the first launch of CubeSats into interplanetary space.
Kevin also designed SkyCube's aluminum structure, computer board, electrical power system, and other electronics. Kevin isn't just an RF expert - he's a really nice guy with great midwestern charm (Kevin grew up in Kansas!) to boot. And he stands by his work. Last November, when we needed assistance, Kevin flew out from Kentucky on his own dime to make things work. I can say from personal experience that Kevin won't quit until he gets it right.
Rouslan Dimitrov (below, middle) is a native of Sofia, Bulgaria, and now holds permanent residency in the USA. Rouslan is a full-time GPU architect and project manager at NVidia Corporation in Santa Clara. He oversees the development of the next generation of bleeding-edge graphics hardware - and he personally designed and built SkyCube's solar panels. He's a top-notch electrical engineer. He not only personally soldered more than 1200 Spectrolab triangles into place on SkyCube's panels, but also performed full system assembly and debugging. Rouslan is also one of the most cheerful people we know - definitely not the stereotype of eastern europeans that you see on TV! He also builds audio hardware, and plays the guitar like a madman. He is a silicon valley rennaissance man. Few can resist his charms.
Scott Cutler (above, right) grew up closer to home, near California's capital of Sacramento. Scott was employee #358 at NVIDIA, and is now a world-leading expert in graphics architecture and optimization. It's less well-known, however, that Scott is also a world-leading expert in nearly everything else. He wrote a program that uses a $25 USB gizmo for watching TV on your PC to decode FM radio, pager messages, and even satellite transmissions from orbit. Scott's work - featured in our video above, showing Kevin's radio working on top Fremont Peak - will become an important part of SkyCube's "tweets from space" component later this year. Scott is also an excellent machinist who solved many mechanical problems in the final stages of SkyCube's development and integration - and created a system for producing perfectly spherical ice balls using only gravity. Scott's garage puts the Bat Cave to shame. In many ways, the even-tempered, mild-mannered Dr. Cutler was the glue who held our team together. After seeing him in action, I'm convinced that there is no problem Scott can't solve.
The Road Ahead
We've taken a breather this week, but there's still much left to do. We'll be sharing more about Scott's amateur radio solution soon. We'll be updating our Satellite Safari apps for iOS and Android to enable your messages and images from orbit when SkyCube launches. And, of course, we'll perform any modifications to the SkyCube satellite that NASA and/or Nanoracks request.
So there's still a long road ahead, but we've come a long, long way. I hope you've enjoyed the journey as much as we have.
Best to all.
-Tim, Kevin, Scott, Rouslan, Mark, Chris, and the rest of Team SkyCube