ArduSat: An Unmanned Falling Vehicle on which you might run code

Think you have challenges getting that sonar, airspeed sensor, or magnetometer to produce clean data in the harsh environment on your Skywalker, with ESCs, RF fields, 65mph winds, and multi-G impacts? Well, the guys over at NanoSatisfi are looking for a new level of pain, and have a kickstarter to put the ArduSat into a polar orbit.

 

Rather than simply launch their payload into space with a load of sensors and some experiments, they are embracing the larger spirit of an open project, and are sandwiching in several arduino-based boards, with the intent to run your experiments. Various options to beam your message down to Earth, take photos or otherwise run your program have been outlined. They have a host of different sensors for your program to I/O block, filter, calculate the median value, and compare to a fluctuating reference voltage.

 

Normally, I like to provide some details for a blog entry, but for this one, I'm going to let their project speak on its own.

 

Dvice has a nice story and overview, and the kickstarter page covers the details, and provides ways you can support the project. Here is a sample:

"ArduSat is a miniature cubic satellite, measuring 10 cm along each edge and weighing about 1 kg. Onboard it will have a suite of 25+ sensors, including three cameras, a Geiger counter, spectrometer, magnetometer and more (check out the FAQ below for a full list). The sensors are connected to a bank of user-programmable Arduino processors, which run your application or experiment, gathering data from the space environment."

 

Here is the video pitch, for your viewing pleasure. 

 

 

Personally, if I were these guys, I'd want someone to talk me into joining the DIYDrone's very own Team Prometheus and BLUAS groups.  They can use these teams' methods to trial and test the gear in high altitude balloon launches before I fired this gear into orbit, and avoid some of the potential for public embarrassment and project failure when learning that the GPS was an MT 3329 rather than MT 3339, that the resistors became superconductors at near zero kelvin, the RF field from the telemetry link was generating spurious signals on all the analog sensors, the alternating heat/cold caused the inter-board connectors to swell and contract like an accordion, and the moisture inside the Pan/tilt servos locked up the gears... 

It's space. Where even AVRdude will not help you debug. Err ... scream. I'm thinking there is a good chance that the guys behind this project are already members here. If so, maybe we can give them some constructive questions and ideas. And our support. But if you have to get your Arduino-rant out, go ahead (you know who you are, you lovable rogues.) Just be brief, we've all heard it before, and this project could generate discussions that are actually interesting, possibly even helpful in solving our own sensor, electrical, and environmental challenges. 

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Moderator
Comment by Michael Pursifull on June 16, 2012 at 12:21pm
Monroe: yes, that is one of many questions I have about the project. I found the story published over at slashdot and already running at a few space and maker-related sites, and figured we'd hear more about it. For our purposes, I'm not sure that it matters if they ever get it launched, some of the engineering lessons could be interesting to our members, especially your Team Prometheus members. Myself, I'd never even think of launching something this without putting it up in balloons first.
Comment by Patrick Egan on June 16, 2012 at 12:23pm

Cool stuff

Comment by R. D. Starwalt on June 16, 2012 at 12:43pm

It takes AMSAT quite a while to put together a bird that can live in orbit and they are moderately funded by hobby standards.

I am all for exploratory projects but there is no need to plow over ground where others know the locations of the rocks and stones. Indeed LOE and beyond is a harsh environment, or lack of one, to be sure.


Moderator
Comment by Michael Pursifull on June 16, 2012 at 1:07pm

Well we've got APMs flying in Africa, at both poles, and up over 100,000 feet. It might be a while longer before we have someone who puts one down the Mariana's trench (and I know Monroe would like to send one out a little farther from the Earth, too) and I just find all failure conditions and tweaks used to survive and function in these environments simply fascinating. Even if it is well plowed ground for specialized teams, to sit at my workbench and prep my gear in similar ways, and then have a sensor function in situations it would otherwise have failed.... there is a certain satisfaction to that. 

Comment by Jack Crossfire on June 16, 2012 at 6:14pm

 I can get something to fall for a lot less than $35,000.   Falling vehicles are the easiest & cheapest.


Moderator
Comment by Michael Pursifull on June 16, 2012 at 11:51pm

The kickstarter page was updated with more information on the sensor packages, so I dived into the GPS board (why so big?) to see what the current build calls for. It is an i2c GPS shield from DSS Curcuits. On that (big) shield, there is a GlobalTop Gms-u1LP "all-in-one ... small SMD form factor, low power" GPS antenna module. So I dove into that and it seem that "It utilizes MediaTek GPS MT3329 solution" [source]. Unless I've missed something in following that path, I think their team need to reconsider the GPS selection. MT3329 ceiling: 18,000 meters.

I think with so many "engineering" minded folks here, we tend to be quick to look for issues, it's just the mind of an engineer. But one thing I find interesting about this kickstarter, and why I'm interested in hearing more from this team, rather than any random pipe dream project one might find is this, take a peak at some bio information on the team members:

Peter Platzer

Peter is a high-energy physicist (with some time at CERN) ... He is currently at the NASA Ames Research Center, ...

Jeroen Cappaert

Jeroen is an aerospace engineer ... He is currently in the CubeSat department at the NASA Ames Research Center. ... 

Joel Spark

Joel Spark is a Canadian aerospace engineer, with a specialty in aerospace structures, systems, and vehicle design. He is currently at EADS Astrium in Germany, working on high-precision satellite pointing mechanisms. ...

Reka Kovacs

... She is currently at the NASA Ames Research Center ... [source]

With three members holding day jobs at NASA Ames, and the fourth at EADS Astrium, and given that the team includes a physicist and two aerospace engineers, one of whom works on CubeSat at NASA, I would like to hear more from this team about their project. If this was a bunch of random kids with a pipe dream, I'd just be encouraging. But I'm thinking this team many just have answers, ideas, and questions to contribute, and may have a few tricks up their sleeves. And I am certain that there are some lessons that come out of their work that would benefit my gear in some way, even if I don't need SOS in any of my current projects.

I think it is constructive to raise questions, and I'm hoping that the team comes and joins us. I think we stand to benefit from collaborators like these folks. Even if, at least in this community, some of the project details raise more questions with us than answers (or, perhaps, because of that fact.)

The kickstarter page also shares that "Discover Magazine is also holding a competition for the most innovative experiment or application for ArduSat with a grand prize worth $1500" Some Arduino coder (and we have a few here, some of the best in the community IMNSHO. I'm not one of them, but I'm rather fond of the fact that they are here) could build a nice new UAV with that prize money....


Moderator
Comment by Michael Pursifull on June 17, 2012 at 12:31am

@Jack: yes, falling vehicles are cheap. However, a high performance falling vehicle is not. 

For wingless items, falling for more than 1 minute and 30 seconds starts to get very expensive.

For winged items, falling for 24 hours starts to get interesting. Falling for a week gets very interesting, and if you can design one that falls for a month or more, you are almost certain to have a good product in the making. 

Comment by R. D. Starwalt on June 17, 2012 at 6:17am

Alan got my intent with his comments.

For several Field Days with my local club, I helped work the amateur satellites, mostly CW (easier to understand than vox). Planning, tracking, troubleshooting the *use* makes the task of a sat easier when someone else has developed a reliable platform. AMSAT and others have developed their recipies for decades.. and they still have failures.

I do not discourage anyone from experimenting, testing, learning, and getting the benefit of an experience. That is what the DIY spirit is all about.

Reach for the sky, it is the first step into the beyond!

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