DIY ground stations for receiving satellite signals can be as cheap as $20-$30 or as expensive as $1500, and in this case more expensive is not necessarily better. Sprites are small, powered only by a solar panel, and many of them will be sending signals from orbit at once. Making sure that all of them can communicate with the ground successfully requires carefully selected software and equipment, along with some smart radio tricks.
The USB NerdKit is an introduction to microcontrollers package offered by NerdKits.com. Rather than being an integrated development platform like the TI Launchpad or the Arduino, the NerdKit is composed of modular components and is designed to teach newcomers the fundamentals of embedded systems. In other words, it’s a perfect place to start learning about MCU programming.
While the final hardware specifications of the Sprite are still in flux, the microcontroller unit that will serve as the spacecraft’s brain has been more or less set. Meet the TI MSP430.
The MSP430 is branded as an “Ultra-Low Power” processor capable of interacting with analog signals, sensors, and digital components. It’s a 16-bit chip, like the CPU in the SNES (or, if you Nintendidn’t, the Sega Genesis). Of course, if all goes as planned the Sprite won’t be playing Earthbound; it will be sending radio signals from orbit.