About this project
Would you like to have your own spacecraft in space?
I'm Zac Manchester, a graduate student in Aerospace Engineering at Cornell University. Over the last several years a few collaborators and I have designed, built, and tested a very tiny and inexpensive spacecraft called Sprite that can be built and launched into low Earth orbit for just a few hundred dollars each!
The Big Picture
My goal is to bring down the huge cost of spaceflight, allowing anyone from a curious high school student or basement tinkerer to a professional scientist to explore what has until now been the exclusive realm of governments and large companies. By shrinking the spacecraft, we can fit more into a single launch slot and split the costs many ways. I want to make it easy enough and affordable enough for anyone to explore space.
You can find out more about the Sprite concept here:
And from the following articles:
The Sprite Spacecraft
Sprites are the size of a couple of postage stamps but have solar cells, a radio transceiver, and a microcontroller (tiny computer) with memory and sensors - many of the capabilities a bigger spacecraft would have, just scaled down. This first version can’t do much more than transmit its name and a few bits of data - think of it as a shrunken down Sputnik - but future versions could include any type of sensor that will fit, from thermometers to cameras.
KickSat is a CubeSat - a standardized small satellite that we can easily launch. It is designed to carry hundreds or even thousands of Sprites into space and deploy them in low Earth orbit. The Sprites will be housed inside KickSat in several spring-loaded stacks and held in place by a lid. A radio signal transmitted from our ground station will command the lid to open, releasing the Sprites as free-flying spacecraft.
After the Sprites are deployed from KickSat, we will track them and record their radio signals using a worldwide network of amateur ground stations to demonstrate their communication capabilities. We will also gather data on how long the Sprites stay in orbit and how well their electronics hold up in the harsh space environment.
Because we will only launch KickSat into a low-altitude orbit, we can guarantee that all of the Sprites will re-enter the Earth's atmosphere within a few days or weeks, leaving no trace of space debris. KickSat itself will last somewhat longer, but should burn up in the atmosphere within a few months.
How Your Money Will Be Used
I need your help to put as many Sprites into orbit as possible to demonstrate that they can be safely launched and operated. A minimum fundraising goal of $30,000 (that's 100 people sponsoring one Sprite each) will allow us to build, test, and integrate all the hardware for KickSat and the Sprites.
As soon as funding is in place, we'll apply for a free launch through several programs, such as NASA's ELaNa CubeSat program. While we are not guaranteed a free launch, there are many such opportunities each year and I believe this project has enough technical appeal and value to NASA to compete with anything out there.
If at least 400 spacecraft-adventurers sponsor Sprites, we'll be able to use the additional funding to purchase a commercial launch, which will help ensure us a ride into space and allow us to get there sooner than we could relying on a free launch - by early 2013 if all goes well.
If at least 1000 space pioneers join us by sponsoring Sprites, we'll be able to dramatically improve and shrink our design by getting custom microchips made. If we can do that, then costs could be driven down so that every school or even every school child could one day have their own spacecraft to explore the solar system.
Every donation counts! Anyone who makes a pledge of any amount will have their name listed on our website as a backer, while anyone pledging at least $25 will get their name printed on one of KickSats panels, and anyone pledging at least $75 will get their own replica (non-functioning) Sprite as a souvenir.
With a donation of $300 or more, you will be sponsoring the launch of a single Sprite which you can call your own. You'll be able to name it and specify the short message (for example, your initials or amateur radio call sign) that it will transmit. You'll also be able to see its position updated on KickSat.org as it flies over a network of amateur ground stations.
For a donation of $1000 or more, you can request a Sprite development kit, including a fully functioning Sprite with all schematics, source code, and programming tools so that you can write your own flight code. You'll also receive a step-by-step guide explaining how to receive and deconvolve the radio signals from the spacecraft if you want to set up your own ground station in addition to using the KickSat.org mission control website.
Donate $5000 or more and you can have a personal VIP tour of Mission Control in Ithaca. I'll show you how KickSat and the Sprites were built, and you can be present when The Big Red Button is pressed to deploy the Sprites.
Want to press The Big Red Button? There can be only one, so the first person who donates $10,000 or more gets to press it!
Are you a member of a club, society, or group of friends who would like to deploy a fleet of Sprites into space together from KickSat? You can have your group's logo on all the Sprites in your fleet (souvenirs and flight units) and we'll list your names together with your logo on the backers page of our website.
To start a Sprite fleet, one person from your group should email the name of your fleet to firstname.lastname@example.org. I'll follow up with that person at the end of our kickstarter campaign to get your fleet logo. Here are the currently registered fleets:
- The British Interplanetary Society (BIS)
- Kidz in Space
- KGB Space Hoppers - GP Aerospace Innovations
To sponsor a Sprite as part of a fleet, simply make a pledge at the $300 level or higher, then send an email to email@example.com with your name, donation amount, and which fleet you want to join.
Let’s kick-start the personal space age!
I look forward to welcoming you to this very select group of space pioneers! If you have a question about KickSat or the Sprite spacecraft, please post it in the comments section and I’ll get back to you with an answer.
What better way of showing off your uber-geek credentials than having your own spacecraft? This could be the perfect holiday gift this year for the geek who has everything or the child who dreams of exploring space. You can make that dream a reality!
- A Sprite development board with programming headers
- A USB programmer
- Online documentation
- Example code
- Online support and feedback
- Code review and testing for flight
- And finally, your code running on a Sprite in space!
We'll give you a few examples to get you started, but programming will require a working knowledge of C and ideally some previous experience working with microcontrollers.
The microcontroller on the Sprite is an MSP430 from Texas Instruments. The exact part is the CC430F5137 and its documentation is available here: http://www.ti.com/product/cc430f5137.
While we won't know the exact orbit until we've secured a launch, we're aiming for an inclined circular low Earth orbit around 300 km altitude. That would mean a roughly 90 minute orbit with several daylight passes per day (at least 2 or 3) over most locations on Earth. Each pass would be several minutes long, allowing plenty of time for reception of radio transmissions by ground stations.
I'll contact you at the end of our Kickstarter fundraising period to ask for this information, as well as your shipping address for mailing your souvenir Sprite or development kit.
This project will release all hardware schematics, PCB designs, and source code for free download (where export restrictions permit). This will ensure that the community can continue to use, modify, and improve the designs in the future.
Code will be under a BSD-style license (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BSD_licenses).
Hardware designs will be under a Creative Commons Attribution Unported 3.0 license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/).
All information and software needed to receive signals from the Sprites will be made freely available. Anyone with the necessary hardware who wants to is encouraged to listen in!
The signals will be in the 70 cm band (around 437 MHz) at about 10 dBm EIRP. All Sprites will be on the same frequency and will use orthogonal PRN spreading codes for both unique identification and signal processing gain.
To receive the signals, you'll need a yagi antenna, a rotator, an LNA, and a software defined radio (SDR) interface for your computer. We've been using the USRP from Ettus Research, but it's pretty expensive, so we're trying to make everything work with the (much cheaper) FUNCube dongle (http://www.funcubedongle.com/) as well.
Frequency coordination with the IARU can't be done until we have KickSat slotted for a specific launch, so we won't know the exact frequency until then.
The answer to this question depends on what kind of orbit we get launched into. We're shooting for a low-altitude orbit where the Sprites would have a few days in space before reentering the atmosphere and burning up. We want to guarantee that the Sprites will stay in orbit for no more than a couple of weeks to eliminate debris concerns.
Debris is a huge concern to everyone in the space community. We certainly want to be responsible space citizens in making sure that we don’t create more of it and will comply with the international rules and guidelines for debris mitigation.
While exact prediction of orbit lifetimes is difficult, the absolute worst-case lifetime for our mission would occur in the event of a deployment failure, in which KickSat is stuck in its launch configuration with all the ChipSats still inside. In that case, KickSat would lose orbital velocity due to atmospheric drag and burn up within a few months of being launched into low Earth orbit.
If the Sprites are successfully deployed, their individual orbital lifetimes will be significantly shorter than KickSat's. This is because their ballistic coefficients are much lower, so atmospheric drag has a greater affect on their orbits.
Yes. I do need to understand what your code does and make sure that it complies with regulations and fits within technical constraints. I will try to work with developers to resolve issues before launch, however, I reserve the right not to fly code for any reason.
Do I need to pay for my own travel arrangements if I donate enough for the VIP tour or press The Big Red Button rewards?
Yes. You will have to get yourself to Ithaca, NY at your own expense, but you will then be taken care of on the day of the deployment and one night of accommodation can be provided if needed.
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