Each and every day science becomes more accessible to the world. Schools are constantly trying to update their labs to ensure their students can get hold of the best equipment and information. Our computers become more powerful all the time to allow us to run experiments that once sat within the realm of supercomputers alone. Even our mobile phones would outperform the best supercomputer in the world of 1979, the Cray 1. This means our children are just bumbling about with computer power scientists would have killed for 40 years ago. Even as better technology becomes easier to get hold of there is one aspect of experimentation you’d think the average person would never be able to experience and that is space experimentation. Well, thanks to NanoSatisfi, you’d be wrong. This incredible company have set out to enable anyone from around the world to conduct their very own experiment in space. Whereas before, space has always been unattainable apart from to the mega rich, universities or governments, soon kids sat in a classroom anywhere in the world could be analysing data gleaned from above our skies for their own tests. It is an insane thought at first, but once you understand the project you begin to wonder why no one has got round to it before. The concept itself is fairly simple. The use of CubeSats.
CubeSats are small satellites which are usually around 10cm³ in size. They often contain hardware to conduct experiments while they orbit around the Earth. Essentially they act like mini-laboratories of which are controlled from the safety of the surface. NanoSatisfi want to put their own CubeSats (due to the use of Arduino components, they are named ArduSats) up there, but rather than just run their own tests, they will be hiring out slots to anyone who can afford them and letting them control this cube of metal hurtling around above the atmosphere.
Although the idea was a stroke of genius, it isn’t exactly complicated. That is, of course, until you come to the payload. The things included here are far from simplistic. Arduino processors were chosen due to the active community associated with them, but there is still the problem of having hardware in space. It has to be able to deal with extreme temperatures despite the lack of air needed for heat distribution plus the high levels of radiation. This sort of thing would destroy a normal processor very quickly. So what have they done to prevent the ArduSat failing?
First of all they have used their own custom printed circuit board, which most importantly will work to manage the temperature of the processors. Without this they would be sure to overheat. There are also two major problems caused by the radiation. One is bitflips (code errors) and single-event latchups (temporary short circuits). To stop bitflips, all processes will be run by multiple processors and then use voting to stop errors. To combat the single-event latchups, the Arduinos will constantly monitor for overcurrents and respond accordingly to protect circuits from damage. There will be no radiation shield though as the satellite will return to Earth before the unavoidable machine-destroying radiation damage can be caused.
Then there is the hardware that will do the tests themselves. There are going to be over 25 sensors included on the ArduSat. This includes three cameras that will be able to take dramatic shots of our planet or distant stars and there will also be the first open source spectrophotometer(which looks so good I want to own one despite have no use for it). On top of that there will be lots of other exciting bits and bobs such as thermistors, a gyrometer, Coarse Sun sensor, 3-axis magnetometer, ozone sensor and a Geiger counter. They will also be holding a vote on what other sensors will take the remaining slots. That is the great thing about this project; it is forming a community around it. This was helped a lot by how it was funded.
To gain the necessary funds to make the ArduSat and then also get it to space piggybacking on another rocket, NanoSatisifi took their cause to Kickstarter and crowdfunded all of the money they needed. All it took was a month to raise $106,330 which far surpassed their needs. This means they will now be able to send two ArduSats up increasing the amount of people who will be able to make use of them. It is a great testament to the scientific community that they could get all this money together in such a short period of time. The ArduSats are set to launch in the Summer of 2013 and will be going up with an ISS resupply mission. This is also an extra benefit as it means a longer lifetime for the satellites due to sharing the same orbit as the ISS. Other launch options might have meant a lower deployment and thus a faster return to the surface.
So that means within a year a publicly funded satellite will be conducted experiments organised by school children while sharing the same orbit as the International Space Station. Warms the cockles, it does.