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DIY Satellite Platforms by Sandy Antunes

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Fabricating PCBs

There are now PCB fabricator companies. You mail or post to them your Gerber files and pay them, and they ship you the boards 16 days later. This is, in a word, awesome. Yes, some makers may prefer to make their own masks and pour out chemicals to etch their own boards, but we are focusing on building a satellite, not smithing your own parts. We are in a golden age of DIY electronics!

My plan was to cheaply acquire good-quality PCB boards sufficient for two TubeSats—the mission satellite and a flight spare. Many companies can turn your plans into small quantities of finished PCB boards, at reasonable cost, in just a few weeks. What is reasonable cost? For boards a few inches in size, as low as $25 for a single board. This is the result of my “experiment” trying multiple PCB fabricators. Ultimately I settled on three best candidates and then checked who delivered the best final product.

For my Calliope satellite, I started with the eight printed circuit boards (PCBs) fabricated for the solar cells. These cells are also the main satellite structural beams. The specs: these solar cell panels are about 1 inch × 4 inches. The satellite needs 8 of them, which means I need 10 (2 spares in case I screw up). Oh, actually, I want 20—enough for a flight spare. (See Figure 2-1.)

Fabricated PCB boards, only $40 each and 5 weeks for delivery

Figure 2-1. Fabricated PCB boards, only $40 each and 5 weeks for delivery

For those of you too impatient ...

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