Stargazing: Want to send something into space? No problem

WAYNE HARRIS-WYRICK: Want to send your own satellite into orbit? No problem. Various space agencies now offer several micro-sized satellite launch programs. Launch your payload without breaking the bank.
BY WAYNE HARRIS-WYRICK wwyrick@sciencemuseumok.org Modified: November 5, 2012 at 5:14 pm •  Published: November 6, 2012
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Want to send your own satellite into orbit? No problem. Various space agencies now offer several micro-sized satellite launch programs. Launch your payload without breaking the bank.

NASA's CubeSat Launch initiative provides opportunities for small satellites to fly on rockets planned for upcoming launches. The standard CubeSat measures 10x10x10 cm and (about 4x4x4 inches, roughly equal to a quart) and weighs 1 kg (2.2 lbs). Doesn't sound like much space, but you can purchase a CubeSat kit, complete with the necessary computer, hardware and batteries for as little as $7,500.

CubeSats fly as auxiliary payloads on planned NASA flights. CubeSats are included as space in a rocket payload area allows. Since they stack well and take up little space, many fit in the small spaces NASA makes available. The third round of CubeSat launches occurs in 2013 and 2014 with 33 micro-satellites. CubeSats selected by NASA to date come from 25 states. No Oklahoma-based CubeSats are on that list. They represent universities, commercial ventures and several military agencies.

If you just can't fill up an entire quart with your satellite experiment, then you might want to consider PongSats, the brainchild of JP Aerospace in Cordova, Calif. The entire experiment fits inside of a cut-in-half, then-taped- together ping pong ball and is carried to the edge of space in high-altitude balloons.

Not all PongSats contain scientific experiments.

“This mission is getting pretty huge,” said John Powell, president of JP Aerospace. “We're flying 1,600 PongSats, six MiniCubes, three high-altitude advertisements, two TV commercials and three weddings! Not actually weddings, but proposals … a dedicated ring-bearing vehicle and another set of rings and wedding favors.” These flights are free. Funding for the sendoff came via crowd sourcing through Kickstarter — an Internet-funding platform — and was bankrolled by 457 backers.

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