Alba Orbital talk to EASAT-2 (AMSAT-EA)

We've caught up with Felix Paez from the EASAT-2 programme from AMSAT-EA. They are building Spain's first PocketQube. Here's Felix with a bit more about the project:

How did you hear about the PocketQube Format?

Looking for information about small satellites we found the Eagle2 ($50SAT) which, as many people know now, is a 1.5 PocketQube launched in 2013. Until then, all the satellites we had seen when looking for inspiration were made in the Cubesat format. It was a happy discovery for us to know that there was a new satellite architecture available, smaller, cheaper and already in space. It would also mean that launch costs should be smaller, allowing access to space to groups with small financing capabilities, as would be our case, an organization working through donations.

 IHU Unit (it has a buzzer so the developers can hear the CW beacon).

IHU Unit (it has a buzzer so the developers can hear the CW beacon).

Tell us a bit about your PocketQube Project

Basically our project is a small PocketQube 2P space communications repeater for HAM use. HAMs are people with a valid radio license that enjoy it as a hobby and/or for experimental uses. The satellite will carry a transponder allowing communications in long distances using small FM hand held transceivers with portable antennas as well as SSB communications for people with better working conditions. It will have too a CW (Morse) beacon in the same frequency that will allow all the people interested in it to know about the internal satellite status, as would be the temperature inside the structure. The modulation for commands will be ASK, and maybe if some experiment is finally held inside it, ASK downlink telemetry too. People don't need a license just to receive or listen the transmissions from this kind of satellites so the data could be retrieved by anyone.

Why choose a PocketQube form factor?

Mainly because the satellite itself and the launch costs will be much smaller compared to a Cubesat, but also because it is a challenge to use a form factor that very few people has used before. We would like to be an inspiration for other small groups as well.

Where did the idea come from, what is the objective?

The three persons that started this project, myself, Daniel Estévez and Eduardo Alonso, are passionate HAMs, with radio-callsigns EA4GQS, EA4GPZ/M0HXM and EA3GHS. We love making contacts (QSOs in HAM argot) using all the low earth orbit satellites (LEO) available to HAMs. Within these activities we found that some of these satellites were very popular, with some of them being even used by people as young as 13, as would be the case of Eugene UR3QTN and his sister Svetlana UR5QSS in Ukraine, because they require only an small FM hand held radio and a little directional antenna that can also been built by one itself as in the case of these kids, being also very easy to operate. The problem and opportunity we found, was that only three of these  'easy' sats were available at that time: SO-50, FOX-1A and LilacSat-2, always very crowded so... why don't to start a small sat project ourselves so another satellite would be available to people with small possibilities and with the wish that other people and institutions as Universities could join later with workforce and funds?

 A 3D Printed Structure for the EASAT-2

A 3D Printed Structure for the EASAT-2

What do you do outside building your PocketQube?

Other activities our organization AMSAT-EA is involved with are teaching other to communicate using satellites, the experimental work associated with it, and of course, helping others to develop their own projects. Many of our members enjoy other activities inside the radio world, as short wave communications, building their our receptors, etc. Some are engineers with lot of experience while other have jobs not related at all with electronics or communications. We are a very heterogeneous group indeed.

What does the future hold?

We see an increasing interest in space among the young people and particularly in the satellite world. This includes people operating HAM satellites, collecting telemetry, getting weather images from them and thinking about new projects and applications. Getting to the young people at Universities seems to be the key to this future that's opening now and that some people begin to call "the New Space": space activities driven by small companies and groups and not by states anymore. I think we will see lots of small satellites doing things that we have never seen before.

What are your top tips for budding PocketQube builders?

My top tips would be: get inspiration as well as information from related PocketQube projects, because there is not as much information out there as there is for Cubesats. Look at what others have done before and how and try to learn lessons from it. Also when using COTS parts it is a good idea to use the same ones (CPUs, solar cells...) others have successfully used in their projects so you don't need to go thought a space certification process yourself. It is important too, as in any other projects, to have a clear and realistic mission definition suitable for the platform.

What is your definition of success?

 Success is having everybody happy and proud of their work, no matter if the project can't reach its final stage of being in orbit because of restrictions such as funds. The important thing is having learned and participating in a very interesting challenge with other people that share the same interests and goals as you.

 

11 PocketQube Payload/Mission Ideas

PocketQubes are quickly opening up a new area for the utalization and commercialization of space. Here at just a few ideas on how you can use the PocketQube platform:

Optics

Most people question whether optical payloads make sense on a satellite as small as a PocketQube. We have researched it and it appears sub 10m GSD is possible within a 3p platform such as Unicorn-2. This is comparable to Sentinel Optics and much better than Landsat. We believe there are going to be a lot of optical PocketQubes in the future.

optics pq.png

ADS-B (Plane Tracking)

There are now commercially available PocketQube ADS-B payloads from Skyfox Labs. Our own Unicorn-1 was to take an ADS-B payload, including a high gain stubbed helix antenna. Paul the creator of WREN is also working on an ADS-B satellite, it seems it wont be too long before there are PocketQube ADS-B sats flying.

  Picture from Skyfox Labs

Picture from Skyfox Labs

AIS (Ship Tracking)

AIS is more tricky than ADS-B because the wavelength is much longer at 162 Mhz (vs 1090Mhz for ADSB). This requires a bigger antenna which is difficult within a PocketQube form factor, however it’s not impossible and we believe there are ways to do it.

Science Payload

Science is the drive of big missions. Great things have been achieved. There have be a few PocketQube science missions proposed and flown. TLogoQube had a CZT array to measure X-ray’s in space, something which would be tricky to do on the ground. Large constellations of science PocketQubes could open up new avenues for scientists and create datasets of Earth which are currently not available.

 UoMBSat-1, Science PocketQube

UoMBSat-1, Science PocketQube

IOD/IOV

In Orbit Demonstration or In Orbit Validation, flying new tech or designs in space for the first time is by far the most popular mission type we see in the near term for PocketQubes. Semiconductors, propulsion, solar cells tech etc are all ongoing mission proposals and we see many more ideas everyday.

 Unicorn-1 IOD/IOV platform, credit Alba Orbital

Unicorn-1 IOD/IOV platform, credit Alba Orbital

IOT/Comms

The Internet of Things is a big growth area of the small satellite industry. 10’s of lions of devices are coming online and need to be connected somehow. While bigger satellites like 12U cubesat can get large throughput, a swarm of PocketQubes can offer better updates by reducing latency more time-critical applications.

Cryptocurrency

The recent success of Bitcoin and Etherium has led to many Alt Coins coming to market. Many of these are looking to space as a way to reach the 7.5 billion people on Earth. For a currency to be successful it need to be universally accessible and it is tricky for governments to block.

 Unicorn-2, Alba Orbital

Unicorn-2, Alba Orbital

Hyperspectral

It’s not just the optical part of the spectrum which can be utilised from space. With a 3p such as Unicorn-2, Hyperspectral PocketQube missions are starting to become viable. The main issue with these missions are the high data rates required to get all the payload data off the spacecraft. It will be sometime before this is available.

Spectrum Monitoring

Monitoring the earth’s RF spectrum usage using PocketQubes isnt just an idea, the SMOG-1 have already built. Fitting in only a 1p, the tiny spectrum analyzer can measure from around 500 Mhz to 1 Ghz, helping find underused spectrum. This is a hot area of PocketQube research.

 SMOG-1, Credit BME

SMOG-1, Credit BME

Weather/GNSS-R

Now this idea is definitely hard. Using a PocketQube for GNSS-R is very difficult, but may be possible. Deploying a high gain array may close the link of the GNSS signals reflected of the Earth, if done in a 3p. This has potential use cases for Weather, more readings aiding models and forecasts.

 

If you have any more ideas, for missions and you would like to discuss their viability on a PocketQube, drop us an email contact@pocketqubeshop.com

Meet the PocketQube team: SunewnewSat

August 15 2014

We have been talking to the some of the teams on the front line of the PocketQube revolution. This blog features Montaser Sallam of the SunewnewSat team, a 1p PocketQube project from Jordan in Middle East. SunewnewSat is currently in the design phase and will hopefully get a launch in the not too distant future. The satellite will carry an array of small sensors.

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How did you hear about PocketQube?

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After seeing Planetary Resources’ ARKYD kickstarter campaign, I got really excited and started looking for other space related projects, that’s when I found out about the awesome Wren PocketQube and eventually the PocketQube standard.

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Tell us a bit about your PocketQube Project

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SunewnewSat is the first Jordanian satellite project, it serves as an educational platform for me as a student and other university or high school students in the future. I am planning to keep things as simple as possible. Naturally, my primary focus will be on the radio and the EPS. A number of sensor readings will be downlinked to earth through different protocols. A simple satellite identification system will also be explored. 

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Why choose a PocketQube form factor?

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A satellite that fits in your pocket!? Where do I sign up?

I think that is the coolest fact about PocketQubes.

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Where did the idea come from, what is the objective?

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I have an interest in spacecraft avionics and I wanted some advice on that subject so I sent a message to one of Planetary Resources’ engineers asking for advice, his advice to me was to start a Cubesat program in my university. Unfortunately, due to some issues, that was not possible. I didn’t give up, so I tried my luck with the local amateur radio society and they were supportive, needless to say, SunewnewSat was born.

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What do you do outside building your PocketQube?

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I am an electronics engineering undergraduate at Yarmouk University, IEEE Vice Chairman of YU student branch, a guitarist and a black belt holder in Shotokan Karate. I am also working towards getting an amateur radio operator license.

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What does the future hold?

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The learning curve is very steep, so whatever the future holds, an amazing experience is ahead of us. 

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What are your top tips for budding PocketQube builder?

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Don’t unplug the soldering iron and you will be fine.

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What is your definition of success?

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A functional engineering model that have passed all the required tests. SunewnewSat in orbit, not as space debris though.

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Got PocketQube ideas? Start your project todayIf you found this interview interesting please consider sharing it :) Building a PocketQube, want to be featured on this blog? Get in touchYou can keep up to date with the SunewnewSat project via their website, https://www.facebook.com/pages/SunewnewSat/679922652088229?fref=ts

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