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DIY Satellite Platforms by Sandy Antunes

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How I Got Started

The Project Calliope satellite is a music/science sonification project that will convert the ionosphere to MIDI data for transmission back to earth. Detectors include magnetic, electric field, thermal, and light. Data is gathered constantly and downlinked as bandwidth is available. Data is sent as unencrypted time-stamped MIDI file packets via amateur radio, transmitted as much as IARU allocation allows. Data usage rights are granted to anyone who can receive it. The satellite will operate continuously within its power and radio budget until re-entry.

A TubeSat picosatellite lifts 200 grams of payload. That’s about 7 ounces. Looked at one way, that’s less than half a can of soda. But it’s enough to lift an entire Nintendo DS game handheld into orbit. Two hundred grams can be a lot of electronics.

When I committed to this project, I didn’t yet have the specific electronics in mind. I’ve built mini guitar amps and guitar sound processors that come in well under 7 ounces. I assumed I could kit-bash stuff and create my own schematics for the final design without much fuss.

In the meantime, I’ve learned an important lesson. When I started this project, I thought I’d need to assemble a crack team of technical, engineering, and ops people to assist me, while I’d handle promotion solo. It turns out I’ll be able to build this satellite with COTS (commercial off-the-shelf) components in a straightforward way relatively alone—but I will need to assemble a team to help me effectively promote it and ensure the music and science results get to people who want them.

What I didn’t expect was that there would be companies that already build everything I need. MAKE offers kits that include sensors. I-CubeX in Canada makes sensors for performance art that are IC2-standard science-quality. The “Heliophone” kit alone—a Sun-driven theremin-like device—would make for an interesting payload.

For Project Calliope, the orbital lifetime is brief—6 to 16 weeks, at best. It’s intentionally in a low earth polar orbit that will result in re-entry. This means, on the plus side, it’s not going to end up as space junk, and it will completely and cleanly disintegrate, becoming lost in the general fall of space dust we already get from nearby asteroids and such. Yes, the Earth gets anywhere from 100 to 1,000 tons of dust each day, just from plowing through space. Which means that every day a few micrograms of dust from space fall on you. Ouch? Hardly.

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