Tag Archives: DIY Space

DIY Space: DIY Satellite Ground Station

Yes, ground station charts typically look very boring. Nature of the beast, I’m afraid. Image from SatNOGS.org.

Anyone who has been following this site knows that satellites are in many different roles, accomplishing many things beneficial to humanity.  But none this really matters without a way to communicate with them.  If a satellite takes a picture, how does that picture make its way to Earth?  If a satellite requires an element set update (an update of a satellite’s orbital track) or troubleshooting, how does that occur?  To communicate with satellites, to get the data they acquired back to Earth, you need ground stations.

If you are more ambitious, or have a lot of satellites to be communicated with, then you have a ground system.  This site has talked about both in the “Imaging Satellite Operations” series, starting here.  Typically these ground stations and systems cost a lot of money, but there’s a group of folks out there trying to make ground stations more accessible using open-source tech. The group, calling themselves SatNOGS, is trying to make it easier and more affordable for folks to become part of a (according to this Hackaday.com post) “Near Space Network.”

So, yes, you now have the opportunity and plans available to create your own satellite communications ground station.  Plans?  Yep, SatNOGS actually has a recipe to help you talk with satellites, and you can go to this part of their site to see what parts you need to do so.  Software is also available, including software defined radio (based on GNURadio–pretty nifty software, actually–you can use it to monitor A LOT of different frequencies) and SatNOGS’ own tracking and contact scheduling software.  By the way, GNURadio is also used to talk with the ISEE-3 satellite.

If you have your own ideas about bettering ground stations and systems to contribute to SatNOGS, first you should admit you’re a space nerd.  Seriously, confront this and then be comfortable with it.  But second, if you do have ideas, the SatNOGS fellas seem friendly enough and are encouraging all types of space enthusiasts to contribute to the ground station’s design.

Build your own, or contribute to SatNOGS; either way, you too, might be able to command a satellite–or at the very least get some satellite data.


DIY Space: Print Your Own Spacecraft

3D model of Kepler. It’s yours, for free. Just go to the NASA 3D Resources site. That’s where this picture came from.

Have you ever wanted to build the Kepler satellite?  What about the current crowd favorite, the International Sun Earth Explorer-3 (ISEE-3)?  Or maybe you appreciate textures and just want to touch things, such as the moon’s surface, space shuttle flight panels (with switches),  or the surface of Chiron.  Maybe you’re a visual type, who truly appreciates images of NASA’s efforts in space.  If so, then the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has a great site for you.

Before you get excited, I must ask–do you have a 3-D printer?  If you do, terrific.  Even if you don’t, you might have access to one but don’t know it (a little bit more about this option later).  Either way, NASA’s site, “NASA 3D Resources (beta),” will probably be you’re favorite site for quite a while.  You can print out models, like the “New Horizons” spacecraft or the “Rosetta” satellite.  Maybe both.  Same for the textures and such.

The best part is these models is that NASA is providing these model files for FREE.  As in, it will only cost you whatever amount of electricity is needed to download the file and write to the storage drive.  Of course, you do need to have access to a 3D printer.  So if a friend of yours has one, maybe that person will be your best friend for a while.  Another option is the local library.  Yup, the library.  My local library just opened a Makerspace not too long ago, and among the nifty bits of equipment such as a laser cutter and a CNC machine, a 3D printer is available.  Or, if you have them in your area, go to the local Makerspace or TechShop.  While the library is probably one of the lowest cost options for us jobless, the others seem to have fairly reasonable rates for the different options they offer.

So, yes, you can build a NASA satellite.  They’re giving you the plans, and maybe you have the technology.  If so, have a great time!

Side note:  There’s a holiday Monday.  Not everyone takes that day off, but I intend to (likely I’ll be writing up the next post).  So, there will not be a post this Monday.  Enjoy Labor Day, my fellow ‘meruhcans.  The rest of you, have a great Monday.

DIY Space: Balloons and Balls

Captain Kangaroo loved ping pong balls. Just ask him. Image hosted on Photobucket from Sodahead.

27,000 were used for re-floating a boat.  They’ve been shot at high speeds out of air cannons.  Captain Kangaroo enjoyed a daily shower of them.  But there’s a person that’s determined to get them into space, too.  What is it that’s the object of all this activity?  Ping pong balls!  The person who’s trying to send them to space?  John Powell and his team.

This is another Kickstarter-sponsored project.  And it’s another Kickstarter-sponsored project that is using high altitude balloons.  In this case, all of the project is already funded, but the balloons are designed to get the ping-pong balls high in the sky.  The ping-pong balls, by the time students are finished with them, are called “PongSats.”  PongSats have been taking flight starting about 12 years ago.  The idea is to allow the students to modify an individual ping pong ball that’s been cut in half.  They can put electronics, seeds, marshmallows, etc.  Considering the size of sensors nowadays, a heck of a lot can be put into a single ping pong ball.

A PongSat electronics package. Image on JP Aerospace’s site.

PongSats prettified. Image on JP Aerospace’s site.

Once the PongSats are sent back to JP Aerospace (John Powell’s team), they will eventually be sent into “near space” via a high altitude balloon.  The balloon is designed to achieve an altitude of 100,000 ft (about 19 miles).  How can students get involved?  Go to JP Aerospace’s site or read their PongSat Guide.  The guide states that the program is “completely free and open to everyone.”  The address to get in touch with JP Aerospace is in both resources as well.

If you are a superb PongSat handler, perhaps you could give it a try.  Build a PongSat, send it to space, get it back, and maybe learn a thing or two.

DIY Space: Spacecraft in A Bedroom

Open the pod bay doors, dad. Image taken by Make and hosted on Makezineblog.

Wow!  Sometimes it’s good to be a kid.  Especially the kid of a father who designs AND BUILDS a spacecraft to sleep and play in.  This Make article shows the amount of detail and time a crafty father put into building a spacecraft in his son’s bedroom.

There are communications, sound effects, lights, and switches.  The spacecraft itself looks like a flattened capsule.  There’s even a pneumatic tube system running between rooms!  The father used Raspberry Pi and Arduinos to help as controllers and sound effects sequencers.  There’s also a payload bay for the child to remotely control a robotic arm to send off and get payloads.

I can hear it now:  “Open the pod bay doors, dad.”  “I’m sorry son, I’m afraid I can’t do that.”  I look at this project and think about how this might spark a child’s imagination to become a space explorer.  It’s a very cool project and if you have the skill and a child interested in space, it might be a fun build.  Just go to the Make website to see exactly what was done.

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

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

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!