Where science and tech meet creativity.

One of the great things about working on Astronomy Cast is that sometimes I get to learn about things that I just didn’t fully appreciate in the past. Today I’m preparing for an episode on amateur/community spacecraft. I knew this was something that was going on, but I hadn’t appreciated the sheer diversity of missions that are in the works. In order to try and get my notes straight for today’s episode, I am going to summarize things here so that they are a resource for all of us. I’m sure this will be out of date very quickly, but hopefully it will help you appreciate everything as much as I now do. (image credit: NASA)

  • ARKYD: The actual first public space telescope!  This project raised $1,505,366 with 17,614 backers, exceeding their $1 million goal. This mission is the first in a series of spacecraft meant to be affordable to private organizations. While this is the most funded, and the earliest funded project, it currently does not have a launch date slated.
  • ArduSat: This project was successfully funded through a Kick Starter on July 15, 2012. Hoping to raise $35,000, it instead raised $106,330 through 676 backers. The original goal was to create an open source platform that used Arduinos to take data from a variety of orbiting cameras and sensors. This platform would allow competitively selected projects, tested on earth, to take data from space. Two separate satellites were launched from the International Space Station in November 2013.  Today it is possible for school groups to purchase time on the satellite to work on a variety of projects, including projects of their own design. more on wiki)
  • SkyCube: This project was successfully funded through Kick Starter on  September 12, 2012. Hoping to raise $82,500 they actually raised $116,890. They had 2711 backers. They hope to have their first launch this month, and to deploy from the International Space Station sometime in March.  This spacecraft is designed for social interactions: it will tweet from space, interact with amateur radio operators, and integrate with a mobile app.
  • PocketQube:  This project was successfully funded on Kick Starter on October 31, 2013. Hoping to raise £3000, they raised £3146 through 97 backers. The goal of this project is to create standards for tiny satellites that are affordable for educational use and hobbyist use. They launched 4 PocketQuebes in November on a Russian Dnepr-1 Rocket, and plan a second launch in Q2 2014.
  •  Other Projects of Note: Cornell graduate student ChipSat or KickSat (funded  Dec 3, 2011), Student run Space Concordia (funded Nov 2013)

While fundamentally different, it should be noted that Mars One has an active Indiegogo campaign that is looking to raise $400,000 toward their Mars Lander and Satellite mission. This isn’t first time that a commercial space corp has looked to raise funding while simultaneously raising notoriety through an Indiegogo campaign. The reason for the switch to Indiegogo likely has to do with the Indiegogo feature that allows teams who don’t raise the full amount of money to still collect funds. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this: These projects can’t go forward without massive funding and the bits and pieces collected in some cases aren’t even enough to hire a grant writer. But that’s a different discussion…

Just 10 years ago, commercial space companies were in their infancy and every day people couldn’t really hope for a technological ride along. Times are changing, and tomorrow, person satellites may be in the same play toy category that GoPros are in today.