Friday, July 23, 2010

Build Your Own Orbital Observatory: No Kidding

"Extreme Hobbyists Put Satellites Into Orbit With $8,000 Kits"
Gadget Lab, Wired (July 20, 2010)

"Attention wannabe supervillains: Putting your own, personal satellite into orbit is not such a far-fetched idea after all. Interorbital Systems, which makes rockets and spacecraft, created a kit last year that lets almost anyone with a passion for electronics and space build a satellite. The $8,000 kit includes the price of the launch.

"The company is now ready to launch its first sub-orbital test flights in California next month.

" '$8,000? That's just the price of a cool midlife crisis,' says Alex 'Sandy' Antunes, who bought one of the kits for a project that will launch on one of earliest flights. 'You could buy a motorcycle or you could launch a satellite. What would you rather do?'..."

Well, the motorcycle may last longer. Each "TubeSat" weighs about 1.65 pounds, is a bit bigger than a Kleenex box, and is launched into an orbit that guarantees that it'll fall back to Earth after a few months.

On the up side, while its in orbit, the onboard transmitter sends a signal strong enough for you to receive on the ground. Provided that you've got a handheld amateur receiver - and that the satellite's in the sky overhead.

I can see it as a just-for-fun DIY project for someone with more disposable income than I've ever had - just for the thrill of picking up 'Hi! I'm Joe's satellite' when it appears in your slice of sky.

My guess is that the $8,000 price tag will attract private-sector researchers and the occasional school, too.

Or, you could transmit back some really expensive home movies.

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