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bjbjv Stephen: Hi and welcome to another episode where I interview innovative makers and entrepreneurs.
Today, we have Sandy Antunes, author of "DIY Satellite Platforms." He is going to talk
about his book and how you can build a satellite. Sandy welcome. Thanks for joining us. Sandy:
Thank you. It is good to be here, Steve. Stephen: Tell us, you've recently written a book for
O'Reilly Media, "DIY Satellite Platforms." What is that book, exactly? Sandy: The book
is the culmination of the series of mistakes, attempts, and home built satellite building.
The idea is, I made all of the mistakes so no one else has to and figure out how to build
your own satellite in your own basement and documented it. Stephen: That's cool. It's
the first of four series? Sandy: Right. The first one is about building the satellite
and in the second one how to test it for rocket launch and for space. Space is a hostile environment.
Vacuum is tough. It turns out the rocket launch is where most satellites fail. The second
one is how you can convert an orbital sander to a shake rig and how you can make a vacuum
chamber out of a pressure cooker and all the things that you need to make a space test
chamber in your basement. Stephen: How did you get into this? Sandy: I was doing science
writing. My background is as an astronomer and I had done some satellite operations for
NASA, but I had never actually built stuff. When I was doing science writing, Interorbital
announced the $8,000 TubeSat kit. My thought is they are including a launch for $8,000
schematics and a launch. So for mid life crisis, do I want to get a motorcycle or build a satellite?
Obviously, I can guess how most of the people listening to this are going to decide, also.
When that happened, I decided to see if we are really in a new space age where you can
make your own personal satellite. I started making it in my basement and documenting it.
I called it Project Calliope after the Muse, because it is going to convert the ionosphere
to music. Stephen: It's going to beam that down? That is awesome. Sandy: It's like going
to the ocean and hearing the waves. You close your eyes and you hear the waves. You get
the feel of the ebb and the flow of what is going on. We don't know that for space. My
thought is let's convert orbits to sounds so people get a sense and the feel of the
rhythm of space. Stephen: Nice. You obviously have technical training. You are an astronomer,
you are a science writer, but you didn't have hardware experience for this. It was something
you could go down to your basement and build and learn. I don't think you are a dotcom
millionaire. Correct me if you are wrong. This technology is so affordable now someone
who is dedicated can actually build a space craft. Sandy: You don't have to be that dedicated.
It is down to the hobbyist level now in terms of building it. There is so many tools and
support in the maker community. The schematics for the PCBs are out there. There are web
companies that you send the plans to and they will send you the boards. This satellite has
four main boards plus the instrument. Each board you can get made by a one off PCB fab
for $40.00. We are away from the old days when you had to be an electrical engineer
and lay out copper traces and dip things in baths. Now it's kits. You get the pieces and
the job of the builder is designing and integrating parts that you can get. You have heard about
3D printers, now if you want to make a pay load that has a custom shape, you can get
a 3D printer and print things. It's a huge time to be a maker. Everyone is already doing
adventurous stuff with sending iPhones up in high altitude balloons. Let's go one higher
and actually go to orbit. Stephen: How did you decide to document all of this? I am sure
a lot of people said they were gong to build a space craft, but you said, "I am going to
do it, and document everything I did." Is that just the science writer in you? Sandy:
That's the science writer, the teacher, and the noisy part of me. Me doing it doesn't
do anything but prove something to myself. But me documenting it, means other people
can take it what I do and make it better. It's the difference between playing guitar
in your basement and then going out to open mic night or hooking up with a band. In one
of them you learn a skill but in the other one you are building something bigger than
yourself and having people walk away and hopefully outdo you. Saying, "that was great, but I
am going to push this even further." Yes do that. Stephen: Has this become bigger than
what you originally though. You were going to build it in your basement, now there is
a book on O'Reilly Media. Has it gained traction that you didn't think was possible? Sandy:
I haven't got invited to a TED Talk yet so I am not going to say it has gone as big as
I would have like it to, but certainly has gone to the level I had hoped to. Which is
the maker community has gotten interested in it. I have gotten criticism and the positive
feedback. I have got people saying, "Oh, man [AMstat] already did that back in the 40's."
I have got at least three other projects that said they are inspired by my weekly blog and
have done their own TubeSat. One of them is building a pulse plasma engine. He said he
is following all that I did. I thought he is so much smarter than me, this is cool.
Stephen: The space craft is built out of home kits and PCB boards that are $40. How long
do you think this spacecraft will last in orbit? There's radiation and all sorts of
stuff. Sandy: It's a short project. You will probably get about six weeks, no more than
three months. They are launched into low earth orbit about 250 kilometers up, or about 400
miles. The orbit will decay very quickly because you have a small irregular obit tumbling.
They will ecologically burn up in reentry after a very short period. This is about trying
new technology and experimenting on stuff that can hopefully move on to something new.
Stephen: If you were in a higher orbit would the orbit be the determining factor or the
space craft degrading in radiation? Sandy: Good question. A typical mass submission used
to use custom parts and then they realized it was cheaper to use off the shelf high end
parts. NASA missions have a life of two years but often go for eight or more. The [inaudible
06:50] community has built some larger micro sacs that have lasted over a decade. I think
if you have a higher orbit, you could definitely get several years even with home parts. Stephen:
The limiting factor now is the orbit you are putting it in not the fact that you are getting
off shelf components and it's degrading. It's the fact they are falling back from the sky.
Sandy: Yes, the orbiter is the limit for everything in space. Everything in space we want to do
is limited by getting up higher. If we can't get up high we can't do anything. That's what
drives your weight limit. The weight limit drives you only have a certain power budget.
You can only put a certain amount of instruments. You can only last a certain period of time.
That's why we need better rockets. I am not a rocket scientist so I can't build a better
rocket, but I can build a satellite. Stephen: You are using the Interorbital TubeSat kit.
Is that what you are using? Sandy: Yes. And the old prop. Stephen: I love the prop. They
have been saying $8,000 a launch for a while now. Do you know how close they are to achieving
their orbital mission? Sandy: They are always about a year out. Part of this is rocket science.
I always joke you can't send a rocket up until you have blown up enough rockets to prove
you know what you are doing. They are still in the blowing up stage. I understand they
have their FAA clearances to do some ballistic launches and they are doing tests with that.
They recently about a month or two ago announced they had NASA contract to do some further
research. So, they are getting some NASA money, which shows they have moved into a slightly
bigger pond. Although, they don't like it when I say, "if Interorbital is not the first
cheap provider into space, someone else will be." They are one of several players. They
are one of the noisiest. I love working with them. They get the open source ethos and the
idea of working with hobbyists and other people. I hope they succeed, but I am also predicting
someone will, if not them, someone else. Stephen: I know there is a new nanosat launched that
challenge that is out there. I was at Space Access 12 and there was a couple of panels
that were going to compete. Seems there are a lot of people going for it. I agree some
sort of nano launcher will bring down the cost, but I think it will make it possible
for more people like you to build a satellite. $8,000 that's amazing. Sandy: Yes, it is about
a factor 10 cheaper than previous access. One thing I discovered recently as I started
doing this more, I wanted to show you could do it even if you are not part of a university
or team, really the lone maker. There are teams out there doing it. It turns out that
NASA and other people will broker a launch opportunity if you have a working cubesat.
It's not if you get a launch slot and then you build it like I am. Instead if you build
a cubesat, there's several universities and NASA that will help you find someone that
has spare room to put your cubesat on. I didn't even realize this. Most rockets launch with
wasted weight, because if the rocket is built to launch 2,000 lbs and the pay load is 1,850
then they have to put something in for the extra 150 to keep their cap calculations.
The fact that every rocket that is launching a satellite is sending up junk, dead weight,
is horrifying. There are people that are brokering to try and replace that with Picosatellites.
There are opportunities now. Stephen: Those are opportunities for individuals not necessarily
universities or non-profits. It's anyone with a working cubesat. Sandy: Anyone with a working
cubesat who can get connected with the right people. Its still friend of a friend and that's
the barrier that Interorbital did. Interorbital did it the old capitalistic way. If you have
the money, we will fly you straight out. I'm not good with the backroom deal. Stephen:
You are kind of like the FedEx. You give us this money and we will put it up there. Sandy:
Exactly. The cubesat community is like the mafia. I know someone, and they will do a
favor for you. Stephen: One of the things I was curious about, I worked for a defense
contractor. I was a mechanical engineer. One of the things they always stressed was ITAR,
International Traffic and Arms Regulations. Was that an issue when you were posting your
stuff? I know a lot of it is off the shelf components. PicoSATs, was that ever an issue?
Sandy: Some of ITAR could be summarized as don't ask, don't tell. Stephen: I know there
are several issues. Sandy: I have not run into any ITAR issues for the reason you said.
I am doing off the shelf, openly available materials. That said I am trying to avoid
ITAR and policy as much as possible because it is very confusing and a very unsettled
territory right now. One of the issues with going with a broker like Interorbital is that
they are handling the mountain of paperwork. The joke is that you need to have a stake
of paperwork equal to the height of your rocket, before you can launch. Stephen: I heard that.
Sandy: They are handling a lot of the permission issue, that when I give them the satellite
and they check it and accept it that's going to handle a lot of permission issues. That
said there are things you cannot fly. You cannot fly an imaging detector that points
to the earth without getting special permission. You cannot fly a broadcast device even for
commanding or communicating with your satellite without negotiating spectrum with either the
FCC of the International IARU for amateurs. There are some policy stuff that I have to
step into. Some of these things that I am discovering or blundering into are why I am
doing the blog and the book, so that other people can say, oh okay and be informed. Stephen:
You are talking about broadcasting. Your spacecraft is going to send the signal back to earth
you have to get the FCC involved? Sandy: FCC if I was doing it as for private spectrum,
but if I am using amateur ham radio which I am then the IRU is the negotiating body
and you basically give them your launch window and they negotiate out who is using spectrum.
A couple of requirements you will get no more than 10% of any given orbit. So for a 90 minute
orbit you get maybe nine minutes of contact. Stephen: Okay. Sandy: You have to be able
to shut down your transmitter instantly if it is infringing in some way, shape, or form.
One technical solution there that I recommend people do have your transmitter automatically
shut down within any 10 minute period so that you have to activate it to turn on. That way
you are not going to have a promiscuous satellite that is corrupting the spectrum. I recently
discovered GENSO which is an ESA European space agency network for pica satellite communication.
The idea is you get hardware that matches their system, hook up to their server and
you get to use any other GENSO to command your satellite as long as you make your antenna
system available to other satellite people. There is some interesting stuff growing now
in the small pica satellite realm. Stephen: There's a whole European communications network
for small satellites. Sandy: I have one that has several U.S. universities and partners
participating already. It is for the amateur and university level space. Stephen: There
is no issue for you participating as an American citizen in the European network? Sandy: I
know that U.S. universities have participated. I don't know if I as an individual can participate.
That is one of the things I am doing some research on. Stephen: What's going to be harder?
Building your spacecraft or getting through all of the regulations to build your space
craft and to launch it. Sandy: Originally I thought it would be an engineering challenge.
I would have to learn a lot of engineering and fabricating. It does turn out that the
figuring out what to do in the policy stuff is about as hard. Stephen: Amazing. I talked
with Michael Clive who started the Mojave Maker Hackerspace. One of the questions I
asked, "is it possible to make space missions out of maker stations?" He took the human
side of it. He didn't really talk about the technology. It was taking for granted technologies
there but it is more of a human management. Can you organize people to do this? We have
got away from the technologies as the limiting factor. It's the people and the policies is
now what is holding us back. Sandy: It is. That is where the universities are stepping
up. There are several universities that will do a balloon build in a weekend as a senior
level project or similar things. There are some team ups of [Wallup's] launch facility
in Virginia for doing sounding types of launches. Brown University recently announced their
open sourcing their plans for picosatellite building. They are sending up a scheme. It's
basically strobes that people can see their own satellite. The idea is anyone can do this.
It's become now a team and an organizing effort more than a technical challenge. I like that.
That's what's going to commoditize space in a good way. It's like the early internet was
only connecting some government and university sites and then everyone was able to get on
through various channels. I think space is going to get that way. That is how we are
going to get into space. Not with massive efforts but with lots of teeny efforts. Stephen:
That's how HP and Apple were all built in garages and all grew into large companies.
Sandy: That's a really big garage. Stephen: Exactly. You are building it in your basement.
10 years form now you have a satellite business and yes I started it in my basement. I see
cubesats and picasats as the shipping containers of space where you have got the standard form
factor. Anything that can fit in this form factor and weigh this much, we will just stick
it on a rocket and launch it up. I think that is a huge advance for space technology. Sandy:
It's also where we are going to get our next generation of engineers, hardware or mechanical
engineers like yourself or electrical engineers. Now they don't have to be rocket scientists.
They can just take something like a basic X24 board or an Arduino board and figure out
something that they want to try that you can only do in micro gravity or zero gravity or
a new detector concept and be, "I can fly this." I don't have to worry about getting
it there. Going with your FedEx analogy, imagine if to send the package, you actually had to
contact each driver and figure out all the mapping. You wouldn't have anything. Stephen:
The politics and what county you can and can't drive through. Yes, it is a nightmare. Going
back to your project, what made you decide that you are going to sample the ionosphere
and send back files. How did you decide that particular mission? Sandy: At the time, I
was wrapping up grad school. I worked for a time and then I went back to get my degree
late in life. I was talking with my grad advisor and we were brainstorming ideas of sending
satellites into space. He came up with a $1M idea, which was to send up a satellite where
people could record the sound of their farts and then send it back down to earth. I thought
that was great, people would pay for that. That was not what I wanted to do. I started
thinking about what I wanted to do and I found a company in Canada called Infusion Systems
that makes I-CubeX sensors for performance artists. People that want to do kinetic things
that track movement or magnetism. The idea of a sensor that coverts magnetic field to
MIDI data which is what keyboards send out. Or, they have electric and light sensors and
it all coverts it to MIDI. What if you flew that into space and converted all of the space
measurements. If you converted that into music instead. Instead of looking at a graph which
is not immediately obvious to someone that doesn't know the science behind it you were
hearing the pace of space. We are hearing about space weather. Space is a hostile environment.
We think it is boring and still we don't have a sense how active things are. I don't know
myself how active things are going to be in space. Is this satellite going to fly along
and just every hour there will be a solar effect? Some noise or flare up or is it going
to be constantly popping with levels ebbing and flowing. It's going through the [ionosphere]
which is where the auroras have happened. I am anticipating that every 90 minutes it's
going to be at least once through a region of high activity and you are going to hear
a huge ramp up. You are going to think this is what the astronauts are going through as
they are going through space. This is what space has. It's not like the movies. It has
its own natural rhythm. When I found out there is a kit for the satellite that's promising
a launch and off the shelf sensors that coverts to music, it just sort of fell out for me.
That's when Project Calliope Music from the Ionosphere came into being. Stephen: Since
you are getting about 9 minutes of radio time per 90 minutes orbit will you be able to transmit
the entire orbit everything that you picked up or is it only going to be enough time to
transmit a portion of that orbit? Sandy: I suspect only a portion of the orbit, figuring
out what chunks to sample. If I am just using the ground station of my house with a ham
pointed antenna I probably don't always want to sample when it is over my house because
that would be the same thing every single orbit. I will probably want to have it choose
different portions of the orbit and send down. There's still a work in progress. Figuring
out the data handling will be an active part of what I am doing. When I talk to musicians,
we are going to make it royalty free, like Whale Songs from the 70s, any musician that
wants to use as ambient or as a track they can put it in their music. I really only need
short segments. A minute or two or three would be great. If I can get one full 90 minute
orbit in piece just by sampling 10 orbits over the course of a couple of weeks I would
be happy. One album out of it. Stephen: When you want your next album you have to launch
another space craft. Sandy: I'm game. Stephen: What are some other things that you could
have done or you have seen other people do with cubesats or picosats? What missions are
possible now and budget? Sandy: I saw team and they are trying to put an optical sensor
in to see if they can do star tracking and acquiring the moon with a picosatellites.
They can practice spinning the satellite to acquire an object, which would be great if
you are planning to go to the moon. First you would have to find it. There's the Brown
Group that is sending a strobe light that you can track the satellite with the naked
eye from earth, which is a neat one. There's the Slicer Satellite where it's a single cubesat
which contains 300 one chip FM transmitters which will send a Sputnik like message. They
are testing the idea of one cubesat with lots of smaller satellites. There are several people
testing ion and pulse plasma drives. A drive the size of a pencil that will fit on the
satellite and give it a small steady thrust. I became affiliated with a place called Capital
College. They had a team for several years working on a project called Velcro picosatellites
to use satellites to look at orbital debris removal. The idea is if you have the International
Space Station has to reposition if there is debris. Instead of repositioning, you could
send out 3 or 4 cubesats to intercept the debris and remove it for you. It could be
a viable solution for satellites. So, prototyping orbital debris removal is another possible
plan. Those are some of the concepts bouncing around. Stephen: They are so much more affordable
that you can try different ideas. Maybe the Velcrosats don't work but you are not out
much money. It probably gives you another idea that this didn't work but we could try
this instead. Just keep integrating and trying different technologies. Sandy: Exactly. It's
a cheap way to prototype and in the process the people building it are now suddenly becoming
satellite builders which they can carry on. Stephen: As you have gone through this I am
curious about the new entrepreneur possibilities by these markers and makers. What kind of
things have you seen that have popped up in the satellite maker community that will be
new business have has been built? Sandy: Interorbital selling cubesat kits for $8,000 with a promise
of a launch. Even if the launch doesn't happen from Interorbital, I definitely got my money's
worth. That's equivalent to taking a couple of courses in satellite building. I basically
self taught myself because of what they did. They are an entrepreneur outfit. There is
a marketing fellow in England that contacted me that wanted to know what kind of marketing
stuff we could do with a pica satellite. Someone from an international aid organization said
they have a problem with journalists being able to get their message out to remote areas.
Could a picosatellite help to censorship? I'll leave it for you to percolate on some
of the thoughts that could be. Look at the Pirate Bay in Sweden. They are looking to
fly blimps in order to boost their ability to get the message out. If you have someone
willing to ignore licensing or in a country with different licensing, you can start getting
to the black cat area of it. The entrepreneur also has some caution areas. All policy is
not a bad thing necessarily for space, but there is a lot of interesting things. A lot
of them go with marketing or communications. The science and engineer is a driver of technology
but it is not the thing that lets people cash out. Stephen: Interesting. Thank you so much.
I appreciate chatting with you. I would love to see how this goes. I will stay in touch.
Sandy: I was writing every week on the satellite, and then I got a new day job, so that put
a hit into. It takes more time than you think, but not as much time as two decades ago. Stephen:
Where can we read your blog? Where can we find more about your project? Sandy: Projectcalliope.com
is where I write weekly about my own satellite build. As you noted from [Riley] crest and
their maker series, we have the four books coming out that walk through how to build
a satellite, how to survive in orbit, how to do communications and what instruments
will work in space. That's the full package. Although, I realized today we need a fifth
book how to put rocket steering and attitude control on a satellite. I will have to find
someone to write that one too. Stephen: I am looking forward to it. :pVs [Content_Types].xml
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How to build your own personal satellite

3526 Folder Collection
林敬修 published on July 19, 2014
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