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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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We are 90% funded - 13 days to go.

Posted by Tim DeBenedictis (Creator)

Hello Team Skycube - 

As of tonight, we're over the 90% mark. We need another $5.5K and we'll be a live, fully funded project. We have 1,600 sponsors. Here's how we can get to the finish line:

1. Everybody contribute an extra $5. This will get us over our goal without the need for additional sponsors.

2. Ask a friend to contribute a minimum of $5. This will close the gap for those who can't contribute more themselves.

We're are so close that I can barely think. Once again, sincere thanks to all of you out there. Just 2 weeks left. You'll hear from us again soon.

Tim & Joe

What Goes Up...

Posted by Tim DeBenedictis (Creator)

Hello, Team SkyCube!

It's been a quiet week, but rest assured, we've been hard at work.  First, though, a quick status check:

We're over the 70% funding mark. There are more than 1400 of us who've sponsored the mission, and we have 10,000 "likes" on Facebook.  Wow!

So let's push on to the finish line.  Let's prove that crowd-funding can work, that social media really can open the new frontier, and that space really does belong to everyone.  Here's what you can do:

1. Convert "likes" into "dos".  If you know someone who "likes" SkyCube, but hasn't yet sponsored, give them a nudge.  Reach out to them in person.  At the end of every facebook profile and twitter feed is a real, live, human being.  Make that contact.  Bring them aboard.

SkyCube has over 10,000 "likes" on Facebook.  If each one of those Facebook "likes" sponsors just $3, we'll be at the finish line ... tomorrow.

2. Sacrifice a pizza.  Our average sponsorship level is $39.  If you've sponsored below that average ... would you consider increasing your pledge?  If everyone who's sponsored below the average level adds just $20 to their sponsorship, we'll be across the finish line.

Twenty dollars is about the cost of a large pizza.  You can have a pizza, or you can take pictures from a satellite that you helped launch into orbit.  (And really, you can probably have that pizza too.)

That is the power of a crowd united in a common cause.  We are really, really close.  Let's make history together.

Media Update

We met with technology reporters from publications like SocialPixels.tv, the Bay Area Reporter, GIGA.de, and the San Francisco Chronicle.

  • Here's Curtis Hollister's "Crowded Places" interview (video, 18 min) on SocialPixels.tv.
  • Here's the SkyCube story in the Bay Area Reporter.

And there's more of this to come.  You, team SkyCube, are now becoming a global phenomenon!

What Goes Up...

We haven't just been talking to reporters.  This week, we have some progress to report on SkyCube's balloon.  First, a bit of history:

This is Echo-1: the first balloon ever launched into orbit and inflated in space.  It was a passive communications satellite, designed to bounce radio waves from continent to continent.  It was over 100 feet across, and - while it lasted - one of the brightest objects in the night sky.

Many people alive at the dawn of the space age remember seeing Echo-1 cross the sky, and thinking, "Wow!  People put that up there.  I wonder what else we can do?"

That wow moment is something we want to recapture with SkyCube.

... Must Come Down!

But now that we're 52 years further into the space age, SkyCube's balloon serves a second purpose, not quite so important back in 1960.  The balloon will drag SkyCube down from orbit, harmlessly vaporizing like a meteor in the upper atmosphere.  SkyCube's balloon will prevent it from becoming space junk that might accidentally collide with one of the many thousands of other satellites in orbit.

This is a first for a CubeSat mission.  No one's done this before.  So how do we make it work?  How do we miniaturize the balloon, and its inflation mechanism so that it fits into half of a 10-centimeter cube?

Here's a sneak preview of what we've been up to in the lab since our last update:

Here's a link to the video.

It's deceptively simple.  When we're ready to inflate the balloon, a nichrome burn wire releases a spring, twisting a gas cracker, which pierces our 8-gram CO2 cartridge.  It worked every time we tested it in the lab.  It worked in a vacuum chamber.  Upside down.  Sideways.  Frozen.

Sometimes simplicity works best.

Wrapup

We're in the final stretch, now.  This is where your outreach really counts.  Earlier you doubled yourselves in a week.  We have three weeks left to go.  Let's do it again.

Clear skies!

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

Science with SkyCube

Posted by Tim DeBenedictis (Creator)

Hello Team SkyCube!

SkyCube is - first and foremost -  a mission of education and public outreach.  But it also might just produce some real science.  This update will focus on the scientific organizations whom we've contacted to share our project's benefits, and the results that it could generate.

Last week, we attended the annual conference of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific in Tucson, Arizona.  Here are some of the non-profit organizations who expressed an interested in working with SkyCube from a scientific and educational perspective:

Astronomers Without Borders, in fact, is accepting SkyCube sponsorships on our behalf, using PayPal, for potential sponsors who might not have Amazon accounts.  Pass the word along!

Seeing the Night Sky from the Other Side

At the ASP conference, representatives of the International Dark-Sky Association asked whether SkyCube might be useful to map out the extent of, and changes in, light pollution on the Earth's night side.  Our honest answer, at the time, was: we don't know.  However, we brought one of SkyCube's cameras aboard a night flight to San Francisco in an attempt to find out.  This is what we discovered:

We were pleasantly surprised to discover that SkyCube's cameras are clearly able to record city lights at night, from miles above the Earth.  With a little image processing, the details became clearer: the image at right shows how SkyCube's cameras recorded the Bay Area at night, below an airplane wing.

This opens the door to many other possibilities: mapping lightning, auroras, and other phenomena using SkyCube's cameras.  In daylight, SkyCube might be used to observe weather patterns, deforestation, the ebb and flow of polar ice, pollution, oil spills, and other phenomena we haven't thought of yet.

Global Orbital Decay Mapping

The map below shows the locations of the ground stations operated by the MC3 network, and the approximate orbital path of SkyCube.  The ellipse shows the area where SkyCube will be visible over the horizon at a particular time.  As SkyCube moves, so does the area from which can be seen.

SkyCube will be out of view of all four ground stations for much of each orbit.  Therefore, your observations will become useful for predicting and refining its orbital path.  This is especially true after SkyCube's balloon inflates, making its orbit decay rapidly.  You can let us know when you actually see SkyCube pass overhead, compared to our predictions.  That tells us how much its orbit has changed.  Your observations might generate a more accurate orbit for SkyCube than the Air Force - amateur satellite observers have done this before!

No one has ever deliberately de-orbited a CubeSat before.  Your observations might just provide groundbreaking engineering data.  And you might just catch the moment when SkyCube finally flashes into the upper atmosphere like a meteor, ending its mission!

A Bit of History

This is a life-sized model of Vanguard 1, launched in 1958.  We took this picture on Monday, at the Small Satellite conference in Utah.  The real Vanguard 1 is still up there - in fact, it's the oldest man-made object still in orbit!

Vanguard 1 was launched to study atmospheric drag and obtain geodetic measurements through orbit analysis.  It was the size of a grapefruit - only slightly smaller than SkyCube - and much less capable.

You now have the chance to do science - personally - with a satellite more powerful than the first one the United States launched into orbit.

Into the Future

There's one more kind of science you might achieve with SkyCube: social science.  Right now, SkyCube has almost ten thousand "likes" on Facebook:

If each of those Facebook "likes" becomes even just a $4 SkyCube sponsor, we'll be at the finish line.

So the questions are: what converted you from being someone who just heard about SkyCube, to someone who liked it, to someone who became part of the team that's actually putting it into orbit?  Can you repeat that experiment with someone else?  How fast can we grow?  How far can we reach?

The answers are out there, waiting for you to discover.  Go find them!

-Tim, Chris, Kevin, Tyler, Mark, David, David, Scott, and the rest of Team SkyCube.

Communication: Part Two

Posted by Tim DeBenedictis (Creator)

Hello Team SkyCube!

This, as promised, is the second part of our two-part update on communication.

The Ham 14er

Sunday, as Curiosity was screaming to its final descent on Mars, one of you - a SkyCube sponsor named David Stillman - was hiking SkyCube's space radio up Long's Peak in Colorado.  Here's what it looked like from the top of this 14,000-foot mountain:

David volunteered to test SkyCube's radio as part of an annual gathering of amateur radio enthusiasts called the Ham 14er.  Colorado's 14,000-foot mountains, many with lines of sight spanning hundreds of miles, give climbers an opportunity to set new long-distance amateur radio records.

For the techies out there, here's a closer look at the gear inside David's plastic box:

This is the real SkyCube space radio and antenna.  A NiMH battery pack substituted for the real CubeSat power board, and a tiny Arduino processor substituted for SkyCube's onboard computer. We didn't want to risk hiking the real computer up the mountain!  Scott Cutler, also on our team, had programmed the Arduino to send a simple "HELLO WORLD" message out the radio.

The test was to see if a listener, many miles away, could hear David's HELLO WORLD broadcast. The listener, however, was mistakenly receiving on 950 MHz instead of the correct 915 MHz, and heard nothing.

It could have been worse: in 1999, NASA blew up a Mars orbiter because one piece of software onboard was programmed using English units, and another was expecting Metric. (Let's not do that with SkyCube.)

Snatching Victory From the Jaws of Defeat

The next day, we repeated the test from a lower peak outside Boulder.  At one mile range, SkyCube's signal was loud and clear.  At five miles: still loud and clear.  Ten miles: still clear.  We actually demonstrated successful communication at 25 miles range, which is about as far as we could go, given the local topography and curvature of the Earth.

That success was a factor-of-5000 improvement over our previous SkyCube radio communication range.  Moreover, we did it with $25 USB radio dongle, and off-the-shelf 900 MHz Yagi antenna:

The real ground radio, which had not yet arrived from AstroDev when we did this test, should perform even better!  One member of our team has personally transmitted, successfully, to PCSat, 3400 km distant, at 435 Mhz with 4-Watt transmitter, a 19" vertical mag mount whip stuck to an 18" diameter steel pizza pan for a ground plane.  You and I can do this too.

David has blogged about his experience on Long's Peak.  Read all about it here.

Ahead of the Curve

With a huge push from George Takei on Monday, SkyCube is now over 50% funded!  We're past the hump, but let's not relax yet.  The race is far from finished.

We can do better than just meeting our fundraising goals - we can exceed them!  Here's what one kickstarter campaign recently accomplished:

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/ouya/ouya-a-new-kind-of-video-game-console?ref=live

This team exceeded their fundraising goal by a factor of ten.  They aimed for $950,000, and earned $8.5 million.  Our goal of $82.5K is much more achievable, and we're actually going into orbit.  That's worth recruiting a friend for, in my book.

So go double yourself again!  Find another sponsor to match your contribution.  Keep blogging.  Keep posting.  Keep recruiting.  Keep communicating.

In the end, that's what gets us all past the finish line.

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

Communication: Part One

Posted by Tim DeBenedictis (Creator)

Hello Team SkyCube!

A week ago there were 500 of us, and we made it a goal to double ourselves this week.
Right now team SkyCube is 1028 in number.  And it's only Monday.  Wow!  If you're one of our new sponsors this week, welcome to Team SkyCube!
Let's see if we can do it again next week!

Here's a 10-minute video that shows what a great team can accomplish working together:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E88d4e1gYh0&feature=player_embedded

These are ten of humanity's finest minutes this century.  I'd like to thank all of the scientists, engineers, mechanics, civil servants, support staff, and everyone else at NASA and JPL who made them possible.

I, however, missed Curiosity's landing, being stuck on a delayed flight to Tuscon, Arizona when the bits came in from Mars.

So what really made last night's Mars experience possible was communication.  Not just radio communication across interplanetary space, but human-to-human communication right here on Earth.  You texted.  You blogged.  You posted.  You called each other.  Your communication transformed Curiosity's landing from a science project understandable by only a few, into a mind-blowing experience shared by millions of people around the world.

That topic - communication - is the subject of this two-part update.  (Most of our technical work this week focussed on SkyCube's radio, and we'll cover that in part two.)

Social Media Update: Thank You, Captain Sulu!

This morning, we had a shout out from George Takei on Facebook.  If you're reading this, please thank George back by supporting his new musical, Allegiance.  It's about a not-so-proud moment in our history; about preventing ourselves from making those mistakes again; and, in the end, uniting people across great cultural divides.  In many ways, those are SkyCube's goals, too.

Please also welcome The Social Media Monthly as SkyCube's second major corporate sponsor.  TSMM - the product of another successful Kickstarter campaign - will be providing regular updates on our progress to their followers as well.

Both of these things represent the kind of communication we need to make SkyCube a success.  You don't have to be a Star Trek star, or own a magazine.  You just need to talk to people, share your excitement, and bring them aboard.  You already have the tools - you just need to use them.

In a week, we can double again.

Best regards,

-Tim, Chris, Scott, Bill, David - both of you! - Mark, Kevin, Tyler, and the rest of Team SkyCube.