This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. An amazing accomplishment that resonates to this day. Since that incredible event, rockets have become more advanced, electronics and computers blazingly fast and incredibly small. Today, we have smart phones and smart devices and technology that couldn't even be imagined in 1969.
The miniaturization of electronics is allowing new breakthroughs never before possible. In the space industry this has led to the creation of smaller satellites that retain the capabilities of their larger cousins. Now we are introducing a satellite so small, you can hold it in your hand - PocketQube.
The PocketQube is a form factor that is being explored by universities and small organizations all over the globe. At only 50mm (2 inches) a side and weighing in at 250 grams (9 ounces), the PocketQube is perhaps the smallest functional satellite that can actually perform sophisticated tasks such as monitoring Earth's resources.
We believe the time is right to to take advantage of this incredible form factor. For the last few years, we have been studying the capabilities and designing a PocketQube that will serve as a demonstration platform. We started with simple elements - 3D printable satellite frames, micro-electronics, solar power - all things that need to work in space. In time these small milestones grew into an actual satellite design. We dubbed this first vehicle the Discovery. A great design but it had no way to get to space. The only thing missing was the ability to launch.
That changed in 2017 when a company called Alba Orbital invited us to a PocketQube workshop in Delft, Netherlands. There we met like minded people striving to develop the PocketQube as a platform. Alba Orbital, one of the organizers, was providing space on their flights to help build the community even bigger. Suddenly, we realized this could really work. We signed a contract with Alba Orbital and placed a deposit on the launch. The last piece (or so we thought) was complete. We are going to fly to space!
The Discovery is unlike many satellites, even ones as small as this. Discovery is made primarily from off-the-shelf components. We specifically limited custom parts just to keep the process simple and easily repeatable. Also, the Discovery is primarily made of plastic. Unlike the typical 3D printed plastics you can work with, the material is reinforced for the rigors of the space environment. If successful, it will be the world's first plastic-framed satellite.
Development is nearly complete. The design for the PocketQube is finalized, and the hardware is now functional. There are still some integration processes and software work to do along with various testing requirements. We are also in the process of getting our licensing with the FCC, ITU, and other government agencies. We have spent nearly $50,000 getting to this point. To take it across the finish line, we need to raise $50,000 more. Our plan is to launch Discovery in 2019 into a 500 km (310 miles) Sun synchronous orbit. This location gives the Discovery optimal viewing of the Earth and makes it easier for us to retrieve data and upload new instructions. But in order to be ready to fly, we have to finish a lot of fine details between now and then.
The ultimate objective for us is to build a constellation of Earth monitoring satellites. Instead of large and expensive satellites, we want to create a new system using very tiny satellites that talk to each other and relay data to Earth as a group. This will allow for a near constant monitoring of resources, nearly in real time. Because they are small, easily built, and inexpensive, we can launch a large number of them and if one fails, the rest can continue to function. With a 5-year lifespan, inexpensive cost, and low, sun-synchronous orbit, they should be perfect.
But before we can build up a satellite constellation, we need to test the hardware in space. We can simulate a lot here on Earth, but the proof is a real satellite, in orbit, sending back data. That is what we are trying to accomplish with this project. We are doing all of this from a very tiny workshop (168 square feet or 16 square meters). Each week we will update our progress here and on our website so people can follow the progress.
A project like this cannot be done alone. It takes a team effort to make it successful. From our parts suppliers to the testing facilities, it takes a lot of people to actually launch a spacecraft. People doing what they do best.
We are looking to raise $50,000 for this Kickstarter. The bulk of those funds will be used to cover launch costs. The remaining will be used for hardware, testing, and reward fulfillment. Space has traditionally been a very expensive game, but with your help, we will bring that cost down and open a new era in orbital sciences.
Funds will be used for:
- Balance of launch costs
- Hardware including space rated radios
- Software and testing
- Reward fulfillment
We have put together an amazing set of rewards that offer a unique spin on what you can do in space. Additionally, participants will get exclusive videos and other content sent directly to them. You will be a part of this space program, not just an observer.
If there is enough demand, we will be able to increase the size and capability of the Discovery. To that end, we have set two stretch goals. If we reach these, the Discovery will be more powerful and provide even more Earth science data.
The only thing missing is you. By supporting this Kickstarter, you will help bring about the development of new and cheaper ways to study and monitor the Earth. Backing this project you are directly participating in the next generation of spacecraft development.
Come join us on an amazing adventure.
Risks and challenges
The biggest risk to the project is licensing. The FCC has placed additional burdens on small satellite operators after an incident earlier this year that resulted in four unlicensed satellites being placed into orbit. Possible delays in our applications could result in Mini-Cubes missing the flight. We do have a backup flight should that happen but it will not launch until 2020 at the earliest.
Funding could also be an issue. While we have taken every precaution to cover the needs of the project, unforeseen issues in testing could result in higher expenses. Once the flight is paid for, we are guaranteed to go provided we have something to fly.
Build issues could represent a failure of the satellite on orbit. Space is unpredictable and new technologies always have a way of springing surprises. We have every confidence that our designs will work and that Discovery will be a success.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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