Entering Drydock: ArduSat

ArduSat mock upA challenger appears! To the right is an artist’s rendering of ArduSat, an Arduino-based cube satellite. Announced this month, the ArduSat shares many of the same mission objectives as KickSat. Specifically, both projects aim to make space exploration easy and affordable for everyone. However, there are some key differences between these two projects that make ArduSat a welcome addition to the DIY satellite scene.

Cube satellites, or CubeSats, are not new. Universities and hobbyist organizations have been launching CubeSats into low Earth orbit for over a decade. Before KickSat, however, individuals wishing to launch a CubeSat into orbit had no choice but to shoulder all of the engineering, testing, and costs themselves. In other words, only those with detailed knowledge of physics, mechanical and electrical engineering, and software development, not to mention deep pockets, could hope to launch one of these satellites into space.

KickSat overcame these barriers by mixing crowdfunding and chip satellites. A university takes care of the design, build, and launch of the payload-carrying CubeSat, and individuals pay to have their personal chip satellites ride into orbit. Under this system, the university offsets the cost of engineering and launch while the customer is free to focus on operating the chip satellite once it’s in orbit.

ArduSat also tackles the challenge of space exploration using crowdfunding, but with a subtle twist. Rather than carrying a limited payload of chip satellites into space (whose orbits quickly degrade after release), the ArduSat contains an impressively diverse payload of sensors. These sensors remain onboard the satellite throughout its flight and are rented out to customers under a timeshare model. Currently, users can preorder access to the satellite for as little as $150.

KickSat’s aim has always been research and development. The team behind KickSat eventually plans to deploy clusters of ChipSats under the direction of one or two CubeSat “motherships.” While a handful of ChipSats might carry the same one or two sensors, the entire fleet would have many different kinds at its disposal. ArduSat is a decidedly more business venture. A single CubeSat remains in low Earth orbit much longer than a ChipSat and can even be recovered after reentry. Nanosatisfi LLC, the company behind ArduSat, provides buyers immediate access to a CubeSat by selling time slots on its sensor array. With KickSat, a university effectively subsidized its CubeSat program. With ArduSat, a company effectively offers a low-cost CubeSat service to universities, individuals, and other organizations.

ArduSat is a welcome addition to the DIY satellite scene, and not only because it introduces a second business model for crowdfunded, citizen-centered space exploration. ArduSat is based on Arduino, a popular embedded systems platform that I’ve mentioned on this blog several times. Arduino is surrounded by a strong community of makers and is designed to have a low barrier of entry. And, best of all, ArduSat has retroactively made all of the Arduino talk on this blog pertinent!

You can preorder uptime on the ArduSat until July 15 by visiting its Kicksarter page.

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