Small Sat

Putting the Raspberry Pi into Orbit with a 3D Printed Satellite

A few months ago I attended the Small Satellite Conference at Utah State University. This annual gathering has been a mainstay of the small satellite community for almost thirty years. During the pre-conference workshop on cubesats Craig Kief, one of the directors of the COSMIAC research centre at the University of New Mexico, talked about how the Maker Movement and the open hardware we have built was making its way into the traditionally hidebound aerospace industry.

After his talk I sat down with Craig Kief and Brian Zufelt, also from COSMIAC, to talk about their plans not just to fly commercial off-the-shelf boards like the Raspberry Pi into orbit, but to 3D print the satellite that’s going to take it there.

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Several tiny CubeSat satellites are shown in this image photographed by an Expedition 33 crew member on the International Space Station on 4 October 2012. The satellites were released outside the Kibo laboratory using a Small Satellite Orbital Deployer attached to the Japanese module's robotic arm. Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Aki Hoshide, flight engineer, set up the satellite deployment gear inside the laboratory and placed it in the Kibo airlock. The Japanese robotic arm then grappled the deployment system and its satellites from the airlock for deployment. A portion of the station's solar array panels and a blue and white part of the earth provide the backdrop for the scene.

Taking the Cube Quest Challenge

The NASA Centennial Challenges Program is the agency’s flagship program of technology prize competitions—from lunar landers, to astronaut gloves, to airships. Back in 2011 we even partnered with NASA to develop inexpensive science kits for suborbital flights for the MAKE Space Challenge.

Amongst the latest challenge announcements from the agency is the Cube Quest Challenge which offers a total of $5 million to teams that can design, build, and deliver small spacecraft capable of operating near and beyond the moon. The Challenge is designed to encourage development of technology to allow deep space exploration using small spacecraft—like CubeSats.

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PhoneSat 1.0 during a high-altitude balloon test.

Want a Free Trip to Orbit With NASA?

One of the initiatives introduced by President Obama today at the White House Maker Faire is an “announcement of opportunity” from NASA for CubeSat developers—intended to broaden the reach of existing programs to people who have no previous experience building hardware intended for space. The call is aimed directly at the 21 “rookie states” with no CubeSat presence, and will leverage the Space Grant network of colleges and universities.

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