We’re launching a satellite, a Borg Cube

AMSAT North America (LINK) that is.
I volunteer time to AMSAT, working on the mechanical engineering side of things, specifically the structural side.

Sometime in Summer 2015 we’ll be launching our CubeSat as a secondary payload.

The Chairman, my main character in the Distance In Time series, is an Amateur Extra ham radio operator. AMSAT and CubeSats receive various mentions in the story. 😀

So what’s a CubeSat? It is a 100mm x 100mm x 100mm cube with electronics inside. The cubed 100 is simply called a 1U. If you stack three then you have a 3U design ‘cube’sat.

Here’s our prototype: (GALLERY LINK)

As you can see it really is just 10cm cubed.

So what’s this all about, what’s our involvement here?

Amateur Radio, aka Ham Radio.

There is a VHF/UHF transceiver in the satellite along with a scientific payload. This satellite carries a science payload for a northeastern university.

We’re going to talk about the transceiver side of things. VHF and UHF communications are line of sight. That means that as long as one antenna (not radio) can see the other antenna the distance between the two is essentially meaningless.

Our CubeSats operate in a 600km orbit, approximately. It’s no problem using a 5w handheld transceiver to speak with another operator within the cone of coverage.

What’s the point? Advancing the Radio Art.

Title 47 – Part 97
Subpart A—General Provisions
§ 97.1 Basis and purpose.
The rules and regulations in this part are designed to provide an amateur radio service having a fundamental purpose as expressed in the following principles:
(a) Recognition and enhancement of the value of the amateur service to the public as a voluntary noncommercial communication service, particularly with respect to providing emergency communications.
(b) Continuation and extension of the amateur’s proven ability to contribute to the advancement of the radio art.
(c) Encouragement and improvement of the amateur service through rules which provide for advancing skills in both the communication and technical phases of the art.
(d) Expansion of the existing reservoir within the amateur radio service of trained operators, technicians, and electronics experts.
(e) Continuation and extension of the amateur’s unique ability to enhance international goodwill.

Many astronauts and cosmonauts are ham radio operators as well. Want to talk with the ISS? Get your Technician License. Easy peasy (LINK)
Here’s a link to a youtube video LINK of a ham talking to Col Doug Wheelock on the International Space Station.

Back to the CubeSat.

Those dark sections are stickers representing the solar cells. Two for every side to catch sunlight as the satellite ‘tumbles’ across the sky. It’s called tumbling but it’s really just a slow rotation.

The satellite is powered by ‘A’ cells. Not AA, not AAA, just A. NiCad ‘A’ batteries to be exact. Yeah, you read that right, NiCad. NiCad is an extremely well proven technology and NASA isn’t real big on secondary payloads getting ultra creative. And, yes, Li-ion is considered ‘creative’.

The antennas, one for VHF the other for UHF, are simply spring steel wire wrapped around four corner posts. The end is held in place with fishing line, Dyneema in our design. Yep, fishing line lol.
Once in orbit, about 45 minutes after release from the rocket structure, the fishing line is burned simply by using a hot resistor. The antenna then literally unwinds to return to its normal shape, hence the reason for using spring steel. In this case the antenna started out as straight wire.
The failsafe with fishing line is that UV light will weaken it and then it will break on its own (in case the resistor fails). It may take a few months but the satellite is up there for years.

Check out the photo gallery for more pics (GALLERY LINK)

Don’t tell anyone but this is how the Borg Cube came to be ………. 😀

Author: Dan Passaro

Carnegie Mellon BSMechE changing the science and military fiction author dream into reality.

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