A ‘do it yourself’ building kit allowing students and amateurs to make their own pocket satellites without extra hardware knowledge has entered the market following a successful Kickstarter campaign.
Developed by Glasgow-based start-up PocketQube, the kit contains the main building blocks needed to make a functioning spacecraft including a radio board, on-board computer, satellite frame and a development board that allows customers to plug in their own sensors.
“We are trying to remove barriers for people to build and launch their own space experiments,” said Tom Walkinshaw, founder and CEO of PocketQube.
“Cube sats have been here before but building them required a certain level of hardware knowledge, some investment, and also launching them could cost about a hundred grand, which is quite over the budget for small organisations.”
The 5cm PocketQubes, selling for about £4,000 and available in multiple configurations, target universities, hobby scientists and schools who may be interested in running their own Earth-observation experiments while having restricted financial resources.
“In the past, people would have to build the whole thing by themselves.” Wilkinshaw said. “But now you can be, for example, a software guy and basically just worry about the programming.”
The 5cm pocket satellites are the smallest spacecraft ever successfully flown in space. The modular spacecraft can be fitted with scientific sensors depending on the nature of the experiment and launched to the low-Earth orbit for as little as £22,000.
“Eventually, we would like to be able to get higher but that is more technically challenging,” Wilkinshaw explained. “For now, we recommend the low-Earth orbit and we think that’s where most of the opportunities will arise. Besides, from the low-Earth orbit the satellites re-enter quite quickly and won’t contribute to the orbital space junk, posing hazard to other spacecraft.”
There are currently four PocketQube satellites orbiting the Earth with the next batch set to fly in early 2016.
The company envisions large constellations of PocketQubes, consisting of 100 and more spacecraft, could eventually perform some of the most complex tasks usually done by much larger satellites.
“We believe small satellites are on the cusp of a major breakthrough, much like personal computers were in the late 1970s and early 1980s,” the company said on its Kickstarter page.
“We believe space should be open to all. We want to facilitate as many PocketQube builders as possible.”