DIY Space: Two-fer–Build Your Own Satellite and Track It

Yes, there’s a book about this sort of thing now. Image from

These two DIY projects are straight from the DIY Space Exploration website.  One project tells you how to build a picosat, the other tells you how to track it.  You can read each one in whatever order you fancy, but if you intend to actually accomplish each project, then you should probably build your picosat before attempting to track it ;-).

OK–to be honest, the build your own picosat portion is an interview with a gentleman who is trying to make building picosats affordable.  Like only $100’s of dollars affordable.  He’s written a book called DIY Satellite Platforms.  The interview does cover some points for the picosat, though.  For instance, once your picosat is launched, the expected orbital life for it would be on three months.  There’s also some surprising discussion over International Traffic in Arms Regulation (ITAR), and how the author skirts around those regulations through buying satellite components off the shelf.

It’s an interesting discussion, and it ends with possibilities for entrepreneurs and other satellite projects.  The digital edition of the book is available digitally for $4.99 tops.  So if you’re interested, it might be worth your while to get it and read it.  You may learn something.

Then once you’ve built it, you can learn how to track it with the next post.  The article goes over the basics, but there are little bits of information missing.  For instance, the article mentions orbital parameters for satellites (which is correct), then uses the acronym TLE for the rest of the post.  But the writer doesn’t really disclose what TLE is the acronym for, so let me help:  Two-Line Element set.  And a TLE is what the US Air Force’s Joint Space Operations Cell (JSPOC) generates once it knows there’s a satellite orbiting the Earth to track.  NORAD does have updated TLEs on their site, too, though.

If you have built something with DIY Satellite Platforms, it’d be great if you shared that with this site.  Just let us know.  Have fun constructing!!


ACHTUNG!!:  One of the astute readers of this post noted some discrepancies in the orbits of the referenced DIY Space Article.  Charles Phillips has noted the math in “Calliope Orbital Lifetime” part of the building a picosat article is a  it off.  250 km DOES NOT equal 400 miles, but more like 155 statute miles.  Growing up in Europe with an American car and an American speedometer, my rule of thumb was about 1.6 kms per mile to keep me out of trouble.  Also, the tracking they are talking about is using GENSO.

Thank you, Charles!

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