A nano-satellite that lets you take Earth images and "tweet" from space, then inflates a visible balloon, and de-orbits cleanly.
You Did It.
You, Team SkyCube, have outdone yourselves. Not only did you meet our original $82.5K funding goal, you surpassed our stretch goal of $110K.
Everyone knows Neil Armstrong's most famous quote. But here's something else he said: "Science has not yet mastered prophecy. We predict too much for the next year and yet far too little for the next 10."
We have an opportunity to prove him right once again. This kickstarter campaign has only been the beginning - but it's already proven that we can reach farther than any of us might have dreamt, and that we can get there by sharing the challenge together.
This page will now be archived and frozen on kickstarter's servers, but you can find further SkyCube project updates and news on our continuing project URL:
Thanks again for your support. It's been a privilege to build the future with you.
-Tim, Chris, Kevin, Tyler, Mark, Joe, David, David, Rouslan, Matt, Scott, and the rest of Team SkyCube
The Next Frontier: SkyCube Squared
As of August 30th, 2012, we are annoucing a new stretch goal of $110,000. The additional funds will be used to build a second copy of SkyCube, in case of launch vehicle failure or (much better) to let everyone take even more pictures and send more messages from space!
We have 7 days left to do this. Failure is not an option! And if you're new to this project, here's what it's all about:
We want to create a space exploration experience that can be shared by everyone - including you!
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SkyCube in the News
September 5th: SkyCube stars in ABC News' story on Do-It-Yourself Satellites.
September 2nd: The front page of the San Francisco Chronicle business section announces SkyCube is a small crowdfunded satellite!
August 24th: The Huffington Post proclaims: SkyCube Sets a Precedent for future CubeSat missions!
August 22nd: SocialPixels.tv interviews SkyCube's founder on host Curtis Hollister's Crowded Places segment.
August 16th - Click Here to read MacDirectory's interview with Tim for the story about how SkyCube came to be.
George Takei - Captain Sulu on Star Trek, and the King of Facebook - has endorsed SkyCube:
IDG News has covered SkyCube! Click here for the story, or the image below for the video:
[Note: since this footage was taken, we've gotten the radio working! Click here for a video demo.]
Who Are We? And What is SkyCube?
We're the makers of the SkySafari astronomy apps for iOS, Android, and Mac OS X, and the SkyFi wireless telescope controller. With our mobile apps, we've revolutionized the way people observe the night sky. Now, we want to do for space exploration what we've done for amateur astronomy.
We are developing a nano-satellite, and mobile apps to go with it, as the focus for a global education and public outreach campaign. The satellite, called SkyCube, is a 10x10x10 cm "1U" CubeSat intended for launch as a secondary payload on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in 2013. Orbiting more than 300 miles up, on a path highly inclined to the Earth's equator, SkyCube will pass over most of the world's inhabited regions.
SkyCube will take low-resolution pictures of the Earth and broadcast simple messages uploaded by sponsors. After 90 days, it will use an 8-gram CO2 cartridge to inflate a 10-foot (3-meter) diameter balloon coated with highly reflective titanium dioxide powder. SkyCube's balloon will make the satellite as bright as the Hubble Space Telescope or a first-magnitude star. You'll be able to see it with your own eyes, sailing across the sky. But SkyCube's balloon isn't just for visibility. It will - within 3 weeks - bring SkyCube down from orbit due to atmospheric drag, ending the mission cleanly in a fiery "grand finale" that avoids any buildup of space debris.
SkyCube: Your Eye in the Sky
SkyCube won't just let you broadcast messages from space. It will also let you look back at the Earth from orbit. You can request images from the satellite using our smartphone or web app. SkyCube's images will be transmitted to our ground stations when the satellite passes over them - and then forwarded to you across the internet. You might just see your entire state (or country!) in one image from space, or catch a sunrise from orbit. Capture hurricanes, oil spills, and other continent-wide phenomena from more than 300 miles up. Here's what you might see:
You can even take pictures with SkyCube's cameras at night! Here are some real pictures, taken with a real SkyCube camera, from an airplane over San Francisco at night. A little processing greatly enhances the raw image:
The International Dark-Sky Association has expressed an interest in using SkyCube to map out light pollution on the Earth's night side. You might also use SkyCube to capture lightning, auroras, and other night-time phenomena from space.
How You Can Talk With SkyCube
The mission will utilize a 915 MHz CubeSat ground station communication network operated by the US Navy, the Boeing Corporation, and the University of Utah. During ground station passes, the satellite will transmit images to the network, which are then forwarded via internet to sponsors who have requested them from our iOS, Android, and web apps.
The satellite will also broadcast sponsors' messages every 10 seconds as data pings - "tweets from space" - detectable by anyone with inexpensive amateur radio equipment. We'll even provide such a radio to our $1000 (and higher) sponsors! However, you won't need anything more than an internet-connected smartphone or web browser to receive messages from SkyCube. They will be archived on our server and accessible from anywhere on the internet.
Here are some examples of possible SkyCube "tweets":
- "Peace on Earth to All People"
- "Happy Birthday Ev, April 27, 2013 - year of the SkyCube"
- "Marry me, my darling THX1138!"
- "Tom: call me when you get this."
- "I went to space and back - Joe Longo, April 2013"
- "If you can read this, then Earth survived the Mayan doomsday of 2012."
Who's Behind SkyCube
MacTech magazine has become our first $25K corporate sponsor, providing advertising, media, and outreach services for the SkyCube mission.
We also welcome The Social Media Monthly, our second major sponsor, who will be providing regular updates on our progress throughout the development of the mission.
Education and advertising opportunities abound at all phases of the mission - you can even put your logo on the balloon! Contact us for details.
We have contracted with experienced CubeSat developers Kevin Brown and Tyler Rose of Astronautical Development, LLC to build our satellite and its radio. Kevin's CubeSat radios have a track record of 100% success, and four of them are actually operating in orbit right now.
SkyCube's space balloon and its CO2 inflation mechanism are being built by Global Western, an experienced manufacturer of aerostats and high-altitude weather balloons. Global Western has built multiple balloons over a million cubic feet of displacement for NASA, JPL, and other clients from Spain, France, Germany, UK, South Africa, and the USA.
Our launch provider is SpaceX - the only private company to have flown to and from the International Space Station. We've already signed a contract with SpaceX's secondary payload integrator, Spaceflight Services, to test, manifest, and launch SkyCube in 2013.
We ourselves will develop server infrastructure and mobile/web apps for sponsors to follow the mission. Our plan has already won a top award at the Funders & Founders venture capital forum in San Francisco!
Sponsorship opportunities begin at $1, and are open to anyone with a smartphone. Sponsors may follow the satellite across the sky, upload messages for it to re-broadcast, and request Earth images from the satellite, using their smartphone or browser. Our highest-value sponsors will get a trip to Cape Canaveral to see the launch - and a chance to operate the satellite for a full day in orbit!
Science with SkyCube
SkyCube will provide an unprecedented opportunity for millions of sponsors worldwide to participate in a shared space exploration experience. SkyCube will be the first satellite "owned" by everyone. Like Sputnik did 50 years ago, SkyCube will boost interest in astronomy, space exploration, and science education for an entire new generation of explorers around the world. We hope you'll help us make it happen!
SkyCube is - first and foremost - a mission of education and public outreach. But it also might just produce some real science. 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!
Since you've made it to the end of our presentation, here's a (mostly irrelevant) space treat:
After it's all said and done ... it ain't worth doin' if you're not having fun!
Your project mentions iPhone and Android apps, as well sponsorships being open "to anyone with a smartphone." So, what's a Windows user without a smartphone to do?
If you have a web browser, you'll also be able to request pictures and send/recieve messages. We will be creating a web UI to our server back-end. The ArduSat folks whom we are working with have similar needs, so there will definitely be some way to get communication to/from the satellite with just a browser.
NASA's CubeSat standard contains a specific ban on pressure vessels of any kind. How are you planning to get your CO2 cartridge on board to inflate your balloon? Are you getting a waiver for this?
SpaceX - our launch provider - is not part of NASA. We have reviewed this with Spaceflight Services; here is their answer, verbatim:
--- cut here ---
You are correct that you are not required to comply with the Cubesat standard; your gas cartridge is not disqualifying—nor likely an issue unless implemented in a dangerous manner, which I doubt.
The procedure is that the cartridge—along with anything else considered "hazardous"—must be identified in the Payload Questionnaire (PQ) and later in the Missile System Pre-launch Safety Package (MSPSP). E.g. PQ item #13: “Description of any pressure vessels to be used on the spacecraft.”
These documents define what hazards need to be disclosed and are used by Spaceflight, and then SpaceX and the range, to formally assess if the risk is acceptable. (This sounds onerous, but know that folks tend to be worried about things like big tanks of hydrazine and ordnance, not CO2 cartridges; these documents are how you tell everyone officially you don't have a hydrazine tank.)
Will the pictures only be of the Earth? Could I request a picture of the ISS or the moon? A picture of an astronaut working outside would be very cool.
You could *try* to get a picture of the ISS/Moon, but probably would not be very successful. Here are the problems:
1) The cameras are going to be fairly wide-angle, with at least a 60 degree FOV. At that size, the Moon would be very small - only a few pixels across.
2) Our orbit does not take us any closer than several hundred km (at best) to the ISS, and our relative speeds would be many thousands of km per hour. So even if you got the ISS (and an astronaut) in the FOV, they would be a tiny dot, whizzing through at many pixels per second.
It's a very cool concept, though.
What's the image resolution of the camera? Can you request specific images by time and location? (e.g. an image pacific ocean at sunrise)?
The maximum camera resolution is 640x480, i.e. VGA. That's less than what people are accustomed to these days, but we're really limited by bandwidth: we can only transmit images down to Earth during the brief (~5 minute) intervals when SkyCube is passing over one of our ground stations. And the radio on board gives us at best a data rate of 57.6 Kbps. That's not exactly broadband internet speeds, but it is certainly much faster the 9600 baud typical of most CubeSat radios. We figured it would be better to radio a selection of multiple VGA-res images down on each pass, rather than a piece of a single HD image.
You will definitely be able to request an image at a specific time. Location is a bit trickier, since it depends on the time. We have no control over where the satellite will be at any one time - Sir Isaac Newton is doing the driving! But since we will know its orbit, we can calculate the time when it will be over a particular location. In fact we're planning to build that ability into our smartphone app. So you'll be able to ask, for example, "When will SkyCube be over Afganistan?" and request a picture at that time.
Yes, but only VERY SMALL Borg.
Do you have any more details about the "inexpensive amateur radio equipment" that will be required to receive the data bursts form the satellite directly?
One member of our team has already been able to detect beaconing from M-Cubed (another CubeSat already in orbit), using a handheld Yaesu FT-60R transceiver with nothing more than the built-in antenna. That's the bare minimum equipment you'd need to detect pings from SkyCube (the FT-60R can receive up to 999 MHz, and we broadcast at 915 MHz.) Note that we say *detect* but not *decode* - to actually decode the "tweets", you'd need to increase your signal-to-noise ratio with a larger antenna and RF preamp (such as our ground stations will have.)
But in the absence of such equipment, you could add a cheap Yagi antenna to greatly increase sensitivity. Data on our every-10-seconds beaconing pings will be modulated at 9600 bps; our team member is working on an iOS app which may be able to use the iPhone's built-in audio hardware to demodulate the data and decode the messages directly. While we think it will work, we have not actually proven it yet! Nevertheless, here's an example of what amateurs can do with the kind of equipment mentioned above:
How are you going to be able to control tumble & spin? How will the camera be aimed at the earth, and maintain its directionality?
That is a great question. SkyCube will have passive magnetic stabilizers which will keep it aligned to the Earth's magnetic field. This is a time-proven technique for orienting very small satellites. We are solving the other problem by putting multiple cameras on board, so that at any one time, at least two cameras will be pointing Earthward. The satellite's software will be smart enough to throw away images that contain black (empty) space.
We've given some thought to making SkyCube an actively-stabilized satellite, but it's difficult to do in a 1U frame, given that half of our volume is occupied by the balloon. If we surpass our fundraising goals, we may be able to make SkyCube a 2U and add capabilities like active stabilization.
Why is SkyCube using 915 MHz for broadcasting from space? Most other CubeSat projects use 437 Mhz. 915 MHz is an unlicensed band in the USA so lots of people use it. These other users can make it difficult to hear the 915 MHz signal from the satellite.
What mainly drove us toward 915 Mhz for the current mission is the fact that we can take advantage of the high-bandwidth US Navy/Boeing/Utah state ground stations. For an application where images are a prime product, bandwidth is everything. And even tho we're operating in a noisy part of the spectrum, the data rates those stations are capable of are an order of magnitude higher than anything we could have done (within our budget) in the 437 MHz HAM bands.
Off-the-shelf CubeSat radios using 437 MHz currently offer a maximum of 9600 bits per second on the downlink. What we're promised by using these 915 Mhz MC3 ground stations is 57.6 kbps minimum, and sometimes up to 115.2 kbps. That seemed like a fair tradeoff for switching from 437 to 915 Mhz. And our radio is something like 1/3 the cost, since it's a clone of the one already designed en masse for Boeing.
But 915 MHz is only an unlicensed frequency in the United States. Would SkyCube have to be switched off over the rest of the world?
Actually, 915 MHz is an ISM (Industrial-Scientific-Medical) band across all of ITU region 2. That includes North and South America, Hawaii, and a good bit of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Certain other countries outside Region 2 (Australia, New Zealand, Israel, and a few others) also permit unlicensed broadcasting on 915 MHz.
In most of Europe, there is an unlicensed ISM band at 868 MHz. This band currently used for things like Zigbee (Z-wave) transmitters and radio modems. 868 MHz is just within the broadcast frequency range of our current radio hardware, so we may be able to broadcast at 868 MHz while over Europe. We're still researching the regulatory issues there, however.
The bottom line is that we will run SkyCube in accordance with all local telecommunication regulations. SkyCube will broadcast everywhere, except where prohibited by law.
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Sponsors 10 minutes of the mission. We'll send you a SkyCube mission T-shirt. And you can broadcast sixty (60) 120-character messages from space, and request six (6) images from the satellite.Estimated delivery:
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Sponsors 15 minutes of the mission. An ideal family pack - we'll send you two (2) SkyCube mission T-shirts! And you can broadcast one hundred (100) 120-character messages from the satellite, and request twenty (20) images from the satellite at any time during the mission.Estimated delivery:
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Sponsors 25 minutes of the mission. An ideal family pack - we'll send you two (2) SkyCube mission T-shirts! You'll get a choice of a one-year digital subscription to either Sky & Telescope or The Social Media Monthly magazine. And you can broadcast one hundred fifty (150) 120-character messages from the satellite, and request twenty-five (25) images from the satellite at any time during the mission.Estimated delivery:
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Sponsors 40 minutes of the mission. A great classroom treat - we'll send you a 1/3-scale, 3D printed model of SkyCube that you can float witha helium balloon (included). We'll also send you four (4) SkyCube mission T-shirts. You'll get a choice of a one-year digital subscription to either Sky & Telescope or The Social Media Monthly magazine. And you can broadcast two hundred fifty (250) 120-character messages from the satellite, and request forty (40) images from the satellite at any time during the mission.Estimated delivery:
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Sponsors 1 hour of the mission. Great for classrooms or schools! We'll send you a flying SpaceX Falcon 9 model rocket, and ten (10) SkyCube mission T-shirts. You can broadcast six hundred (600) 120-character messages from space, and request up to one hundred (100) images from the satellite.Estimated delivery:
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Sponsors 2 hours of the mission - a great high school or university classroom sponsorship package. We'll send you a radio receiver which you can use to detect transmissions from SkyCube and other satellites already in orbit! You'll also get a flying SpaceX Falcon 9 model rocket, and twenty (20) SkyCube mission T-shirts. You can broadcast one thousand (1000) 120-character messages from space, and request up to two hundred (200) images from the satellite.Estimated delivery:
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Sponsors 12 hours of the mission. We'll provide one launch viewing ticket, and round-trip airfare for one person to Cape Canaveral from anywhere in the continental US, for you to see the satellite lift off! We'll send you the same rewards as our $1,000 sponsors (amateur satellite radio, SpaceX model rocket, 20 T-shirts). You can also send up to to six thousand (6000) messages from space, and request up to one thousand (1000) images from orbit.Estimated delivery:
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Sponsors one full day of the mission - and we'll let you operate SkyCube for that whole day! We'll provide launch viewing tickets and round trip airfare for two (2) people to Cape Canaveral from anywhere in the continental US to watch the satellite lift off. Once it's in orbit, you'll have exclusive use of SkyCube for one full day! Send up to ten thousand (10,000) messages from space, request up to two thousand (2000) images - even make a movie of the Earth from orbit! Includes all rewards for our $1000 sponsors as well.Estimated delivery:
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