Hello Team SkyCube!
We continue to build, test, and integrate the final set of SkyCube components that will fly into orbit later this year. But 2013's first update will focus on another aspect of the mission: communication with the ground.
In this day and age of global high-speed internet communication, you might think there’s an existing ground station network that CubeSats can simply “plug into.” This, unfortunately, is not the case. To date, most CubeSat missions have built their own ground stations, using their own frequencies, antennas, and protocols.
MC3 CubeSat ground station antennas in Monterey, CA.
In 2007, the European Space Agency’s education office began a collaborative effort, called GENSO, the Global Educational Network for Satellite Operations to provide a single worldwide network of CubeSat ground stations. But as of late 2012 this has not materialized in any significant way — most CubeSat missions continue to roll their own communications.
We decided not to reinvent the wheel.
The US government has also been building its own network of CubeSat ground stations over the past decade. That network, the Mobile CubeSat Command and Control system (or MC3) was primarily designed for military CubeSats in the COLONY program. It offers the highest bandwidth of any CubeSat communication network in operation today.
MC3 can talk to up to 30 CubeSats at once, with four ground stations in operation across North America today, and another half-dozen stations planned over the next several years. You can read all the details here.
MC3 ground station locations. Saber Astronautics in Sydney, Australia has offered to support our mission as well (details TBD).
All's Well That Ends Well
In December, we met with the MC3 network's operators at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. That meeting's purpose was to define the hurdles - both technical and administrative - that needed to be overcome for SkyCube to use MC3 as its primary ground communication system.
The MC3 Secure Operations Center at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California.
Since December's meeting, we've both made great strides towards overcoming those hurdles. We are extremely pleased to be the first civilian CubeSat mission able to use MC3 for ground-to-space communication - and very grateful to the US Navy for its support.
This is also a great example of for how government and private business can work together. We hope it sets a strong positive precedent for future progress, both in space, and here on Earth.
Here's looking forward to a prosperous and successful 2013.
-Tim, Chris, Kevin, Scott, Rouslan, Mark, and the rest of Team SkyCube