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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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A Word from Mission Control

Posted by Tim DeBenedictis (Creator)

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.

The Problem

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 Solution

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

Happy Holidays!

Posted by Tim DeBenedictis (Creator)

The Mayan apocalypse has now passed (whew!) and Christmas is upon us. We're taking a few days off for the holidays, so this will be our last update until 2013. Here's what we've been up to in December:

Reward Update

All SkyCube T-shirts, models, and Falcon 9 model rockets should arrive by Christmas. The only exceptions are international orders, which should all be in the mail by then as well. If your stuff hasn't arrived by January, please let us know by email.

Media Update

On December 5th, we presented SkyCube at SF New Tech in San Francisco. Here's a picture of the audience, behind a spotlight, taken by the satellite on stage:

Click here for a video of the event - it's 5 minutes of our demo, plus 5 minutes of Q & A.

The next day, an article about SkyCube and other CubeSat initiatives appeared in the Wall Street Journal. Wow! We offer our congratulations to ArduSat, also mentioned in the article.

Structure and Testing

SkyCube's custom frame has now been built - not just out of plastic, but the aluminum that will really fly in space next year. Here's how it looks, including hinges for the solar panels:

We've also begun testing our electronics for flight qualification. On Wednesday, we put SkyCube's main processor board, power system, radio, and cameras in a hard vacuum chamber with pressures below 5x10-5 Torr, at temperatures up to 80 degrees C (180 degrees F), for more than 6 hours.  After solving a few initial setup problems, things went very well. All components worked with 100% success for the full duration of the thermal-vacuum test.

Here's a 3-minute video showing the electronics in the vacuum chamber.  We're very pleased with the results, and expect to perform the remaining vibration and qualification tests early in January.

Holiday Thanks

Before we sign off for 2012, please accept our gratitude for making SkyCube possible. Your enthusiasm is infectious, and has kept us going through the hard times. You really are making our collective dreams come true, and we'll hope to reward you with even more progress in 2013.

Best wishes, and happy holidays.

-Tim, Chris, Kevin, Scott, Rouslan, Evan, Joe, and the rest of Team SkyCube

Moving Forward - Part 2

Posted by Tim DeBenedictis (Creator)

Here's the second half of our 2-part update on SkyCube's recent progress. Rather than telling you what we've been up to, we'll show you.

A Day in the Life of SkyCube Engineering

Here's a 5-minute YouTube video that illustrates the engineering work that we've been doing over the past several weeks:

Click Here for a 5-minute YouTube video of the SkyCube engineering team hard at work.

At this point, all of SkyCube's major subsystems have been designed and prototyped. Flight-ready electronics for the main computer processor board, electrical power system, radio, cameras, and balloon inflation mechanism have been manufactured.

The frame has been prototyped in 3D-printed plastic. The next steps are machining the frame in aluminum, assembling the parts, and testing the integrated satellite. We'll be doing this in December and January, for delivery to our launch provider in time for an April launch.

Launch Schedule

Several folks have asked whether our launch is likely to be delayed, in light of the Falcon 9 launch anomaly last month. In the space business, anything is possible. But as of this writing, the official word from SpaceX is that SkyCube's launch vehicle is still scheduled for liftoff from Cape Canaveral in April, 2013.

Our Falcon 9 will use a different engine variation than last month's, and should be unaffected. In spite of the anomaly, last month's Falcon 9 still reached orbit, and delivered its Dragon cargo capsule to the Space Station.  If SkyCube had launched on that vehicle, its mission still would have succeeded.

Space engineering is not without problems - rather, it's about solving problems and overcoming challenges. If this stuff was easy, we wouldn't be doing it!

Go Harrison Interview

For those who missed it, here's our interview with Cary Harrison last month.

Click here for a YouTube video of our radio interview with Cary Harrison.

SkyCube @ SF New Tech on December 5th!

Team SkyCube will demo SkyCube's state-of-the-art live at the SF New Tech event on Wednesday December 5th:

http://amazinginventions.eventbrite.com/

If you're in the San Francisco Bay Area, come on by! This is a semi-competitive event where you get to have drinks, shout out questions, and vote for winners.  So - come one, come all, and let's, ah, rocket above the competition :-)

We'll look forward to seeing you.

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

Moving Forward - Part I

Posted by Tim DeBenedictis (Creator)

Hello, Team SkyCube!

The main reason for the long delay since our project update is mainly that I (Tim) have been on vacation in Australia to see tomorrow's total solar eclipse.  Rest assured, however, that the team has been busy!  This is the first of a 2-part update on the project's progress.  Part 2 will come after tomorrow's solar eclipse.

SkyCube T-Shirt Update

T-shirts are being manufactured and shipped this week.  It will take about 2 weeks to ship all of them out, so you should have them by the end of November.

A few of you have asked for double-extra-large (XXL) T-shirts, so we've manufactured a limited number.  If you need one, and you're at a qualifying sponsorship level ($60 and above), please email skycube@southernstars.com with your name and shipping address.

Go Harrison!

Cary Harrison, the well-known progressive radio talk show host, will be airing a radio interview we recorded at his studio last month.  He will be running the skycube awareness interview - heavily peppered with our various iDevice apps - on Monday November 12 Between 3 and 4 PM Pacific / 6 to 7 Eastern.  That is about 1 hour from now!

The radio broadcast will air:

  • KPFK 90.7 Los Angeles
  • 93.7 San Diego
  • 99.5 FM, Central California
  • 98.7 Santa Barbara
  • Progressive Radio Network (PRN.fm)

Live videostream on:

Paperwork, Paperwork, Paperwork!

In addition to building our satellite, there's an extraordinary amount of paperwork associated with getting it into orbit.  If you may be contemplating similar projects in the future, we've decided to release our applications to give you a flavor of what you might be up against.

Please note that these are the applications as submitted; approval is still pending.  There are a couple of surprises in here, including one regarding SkyCube's cameras.  We'll save them as a surprise for the reader. :-)

Engineering Progress

Work continues on our electrical power system, solar panels, cameras and mission software.  We'll send a summary in Part 2.

Best wishes,

-Tim (from Port Douglas, QLD, Australia) on behalf of Team SkyCube.

Survey Stats and Solar Panels

Posted by Tim DeBenedictis (Creator)

Hello Team SkyCube!

You're overdue for an update - rest assured, we've just been busy.  You are not forgotten!  At this point, more than 95% of you have returned your sponsor surveys.  (We apologize for the trouble some of you experienced filling them out - we did not make clear enough that Kickstarter requires something in every field, and to put "NA" in fields you wish to leave blank.)

If you haven't yet returned your survey, please do so - there's still time.

T Shirts: We have a winner!

We now have a clear winner in the T-shirt design contest.  By a large margin, the winning design was "A" (252 votes), followed by "C" (117), "B" (45), and "D" (42).  We made some tweaks to the design based on requirements from our T-shirt manufacturer, and included a new slogan suggested by you.  T-shirts are now in production; here's what they look like (left is front; right is back):

Survey Summary

We now know much more about who you are and what you want to do with SkyCube.  Here is a summary:

  • 72% of you are live in the United States.  5% are Canadian, and about 3% each are in France, Australia, Germany, and the UK.  But we have sponsors in more than 27 countries around the world, including Algeria, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Finland, Germany, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Serbia, Sweden, Switzerland, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe!
  • A majority of you preferred to follow SkyCube on your iPhones (928), followed by web browsers (848), followed by Android (408).  We'll provide support for all three, with iOS and Web interfaces to SkyCube developed first.
  • A majority of you will follow each other's messages on Twitter (1291 "yes"s vs. 887 "no"s to the Twitter question).
  • You preferred - by 1055 votes to 170 - an interest in taking images with SkyCube, rather than sending messages to i.  This statistic is a bit lopsided since it doesn't include the sub-$6 sponsors for whom images are not an option, but even including those, the conclusion is the same.  ("No Preference" got 700 votes here.)  So we'll put some serious effort into getting those cameras to work well!
  • There are 281 serious amateur astronomers among you who own computer-controlled telescopes, and 146 licensed HAM radio operators.  If you're one of them, we might just have a special project for you - stay tuned.

Carpe Lux!

For those who don't speak Latin, Google Translate gets this one almost right.  Most of our technical work in the past few weeks has focussed on SkyCube's electrical power system: solar panels, batteries, and the electronics to store power and deliver it to the satellite's other subsystems.

After experimenting with a few low-cost and very expensive options, we settled on a happy medium.  Spectrolab - who manufactures solar panels for the International Space Station - also provides  "leftovers" from the large wafers used to produce full-size space-grade solar panels.  We put 30 of these Spectrolab triangles on a PCB of our own design to generate as much power as specialized CubeSat solar panels costing upwards of $2500 - for a total cost of just $150 each.

Here's how they look, both with and without Spectrolab triangles:

These Spectrolab triangular cells have a long flight heritage on other CubeSat missions, and we're very pleased with their results so far.  We're also extremely grateful for the design guidance provided by professor Bob Twiggs - and we're honored to be the first user of AstroDev's brand new electrical power system module!

Thanks again to all for your support.  Go "Sieze the Light"!  Best regards,

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