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DIY Space Programs

Citizen-science satellites allow anyone to run experiments in orbit

3 min read
DIY Space Programs
Big and small:  an artist's impression of a how an ArduSat will look in orbit. A fraction the size of a typical satellite, such satellites will permit low-cost limited observations and experiments in space.
Image: NanoSatisfi

In 1957, Arthur Frommer traveled Europe on US $5 a day, and the Soviets launched Sputnik 1. Today, $5 scarcely covers an espresso at a Parisian café, but it could buy 3 hours on a satellite packed with technology that would have seemed like science fiction to Cold War rocketeers.

In August, two small satellites were sent to the International Space Station (ISS) and will be launched into their own orbits in November. At a cost of about $35 to $45 per day of run time, purchasable in blocks of three days or more, students and hobbyists can run experiments with the satellites. These ArduSat spacecraft, from the start-up NanoSatisfi, were developed from an open-source design based on the Arduino microcontroller. Each is a cube 10 centimeters on a side and has a magnetometer, a spectrometer, temperature sensors, a gamma-ray detector, a Geiger counter, and a 1.3-megapixel digital camera.

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Top Tech 2022: A Special Report

Preview two dozen exciting technical developments that are in the pipeline for the coming year

1 min read
Photo of the lower part of a rocket in an engineering bay.

NASA’s Space Launch System will carry Orion to the moon.

Frank Michaux/NASA

At the start of each year, IEEE Spectrum attempts to predict the future. It can be tricky, but we do our best, filling the January issue with a couple of dozen reports, short and long, about developments the editors expect to make news in the coming year.

This isn’t hard to do when the project has been in the works for a long time and is progressing on schedule—the coming first flight of NASA’s Space Launch System, for example. For other stories, we must go farther out on a limb. A case in point: the description of a hardware wallet for Bitcoin that the company formerly known as Square (which recently changed its name to Block) is developing but won’t officially comment on. One thing we can predict with confidence, though, is that Spectrum readers, familiar with the vicissitudes of technical development work, will understand if some of these projects don’t, in fact, pan out. That’s still okay.

Engineering, like life, is as much about the journey as the destination.

See all stories from our Top Tech 2022 Special Report

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