Tag Archives: launch

Your own satellite aloft for $8,000

TubeSatIf SpaceX are out of your budget range, and you’re not willing to wait for laser propulsion to mature to commercially viable levels, you’d be forgiven for thinking that you were bang out of affordable options for launching your own satellite into orbit.

Not so – thanks to Interorbital Systems, you can buy a TubeSat 750-gram microsatellite and launch space for it on one of the company’s Neptune rockets… for just $8,000.

Since the TubeSats are placed into self-decaying orbits 310 kilometers (192 miles) above the Earth’s surface, they do not contribute to any long-term build-up of orbital debris. After a few weeks of operation, they will safely re-enter the atmosphere and burn-up. TubeSats are designed to be orbit-friendly.  Launches are expected to begin in the fourth quarter of 2010.


Each TubeSat kit includes the satellite’s structural components, safety hardware, solar panels, batteries, power management hardware and software,  transceiver, antennas, microcomputer, and the required programming tools. With these components alone, the builder can construct a satellite that puts out enough power to be picked up on the ground by a hand-held HAM radio receiver. Simple applications include broadcasting a repeating message from orbit or programming the satellite to function as a private orbital HAM radio relay station.

Sounds pretty limited in scope, doesn’t it? But then so do many generic technology platforms, right up until the point where hackers and other inventive types start testing their limits… and $8,000 isn’t a completely unreachable investment for a small clade of geeks with a big idea, or for an organisation with less savoury motives. If nothing else, we may see some sort of orbital-broadcast pirate radio revival… [via SlashDot; image courtesy Interorbital Systems]

Will laser propulsion beam us up to orbit?

Some lasers, yesterdayThe space geeks among you will doubtless have heard of the laser propulsion concept before, but it’s largely remained ensconced in the realms of the theoretical so far.  However, the superbly-named Leik Myrabo reckons he has cracked it, and is currently working on bringing his ideas to a commercially viable status:

Basic research experiments using high-powered lasers are underway in Brazil, with experts investigating the central physics of laser-heated airspikes and pulsed laser propulsion engines for future ultra-energetic craft.

At the Brazil-based lab, a hypersonic shock tunnel is linked to two pulsed infrared lasers with peak powers reaching the gigawatt range – the highest power laser propulsion experiments performed to date, Myrabo said.

“In the lab we’re doing full-size engine segment tests for vehicles that will revolutionize access to space,” Myrabo emphasized. “It’s real hardware. It’s real physics. We’re getting real data…and it’s not paper studies.”

“Right now, we’re chasing the data,” Myrabo said. “When you fire into the engine, it’s a real wallop. It sounds like a shotgun going off inside the lab. It’s really loud.”

The laser propulsion experiments, Myrabo added, are also relevant to launching nanosatellites (weighing 1 to 10 kilograms) and microsatellites (10 to 100 kilograms) into low Earth orbit.

Now, colour me cynical if you will, but I reckon that last throwaway point there about the microsatellites may be the the more plausible goal for this technology, and the stuff about sending passenger vehicles into suborbital space is optimistic grandstanding designed to attract attention and investment. [image by Krassy Can Do It]

Even if the researchers (who are sponsored under international collaboration between the United States Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the Brazilian Air Force) are convinced of their omega point, cheap microsat launches will at least provide an income stream while development continues. Either way, it’s good to see another option on the table for commercial space launches.

Space is the place

CGI rendering of the International Space Station Thanks to the anniversary of the Apollo Moon landings, everyone’s talking about space at the moment – and it’s still as contentious and passionate a subject as ever. [image by FlyingSinger]

Charlie Stross looks back at the Moon landings and decides that despite the huge advances in technology since the 60s, NASA’s proposed Constellation Moon landing program is unlikely to come off:

Today we lack a vital resource that both Wernher von Braun and Sergei Korolev took for granted: thousands of engineers with the experience of designing, building, and launching new types of rocket in a matter of years or even months. We used to have them, but some time in the past 40 years they all retired. We’ve got the institutions and the data and the better technology, but we don’t have the experience those early pioneers had. And I’m betting that the process of rebuilding all that institutional competence is going to run over budget. While NASA’s Constellation program might work, and while it could deliver far more valuable lunar science than Apollo ever did, it will inevitably cost much more than NASA’s official estimates suggest, because it’s too big a project for today’s NASA — NASA, and indeed the entire space industrial sector in the USA, would have to grow, structurally, to make it work.

Elsewhere, Paul McAuley laments the ‘disposable space truck’ model of space flight, saying it’s:

like building an ocean liner to cross the Atlantic and setting fire to it when you reach New York.

Meanwhile, SpaceX have just completed their first commercial satellite launch, successfully putting a Malaysian Earth-imaging sat into orbit.

SpaceX landed a NASA contract for hauling cargo up to the ISS some time ago, but it looks like they won’t be able to rely on that as a long-term entry on the balance sheet, as Bruce Sterling points to an article in the Washington Post wherein NASA’s space program manager announces the controversial plan to de-orbit (and hence destroy) the International Space Station when the budget runs out in 2016:

Suffredini raised some eyebrows when, at a public hearing last month, he declared flatly that the plan is to de-orbit the station in 2016. He addressed his comments to a panel chaired by former aerospace executive Norman Augustine that is charged by the Obama administration with reviewing the entire human spaceflight program. Everything is on the table — missions, goals, rocket design. And right there in the mix is this big, fancy space laboratory circling the Earth from 220 miles up.

The cost of the station is both a liability and, paradoxically, a virtue. A figure commonly associated with the ISS is that it will ultimately cost the United States and its international partners about $100 billion. That may add to the political pressure to keep the space laboratory intact and in orbit rather than seeing it plunging back to Earth so soon after completion.

Apparently physicist and vocal space critic Robert Park suggests palming off the money-eating white elephant on the Chinese instead. I’d have thought auctioning it off to the highest bidder would have made more sense, and I’m pretty sure there’s be some interested parties – China included, but plenty of non-state parties also.

And finally, via Warren Ellis comes something for flicking your geek switches – HFradio.org can supply you with space weather updates via Twitter. As Ellis remarks, “it’s like the Shipping Forecast for space”… now all we need is a way to convert it to an audio stream. Anyone got a zero-g Nabaztag?