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Spacecraft

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You can send a do-it-yourself satellite into space, one that piggybacks on a commercial rocket. This pico-satellite must conform to a set of dimensions about the size of a soda can. The minimum price of a launch is $12,000 and dropping. All the other rules, constraints, and questions you’ll need to build are covered in this very basic intro. Author Sandy Antunes is writing a master guide one small booklet at a time so check out his other titles in this series.

-- KK

DIY Satellite Platforms
Sandy Antunes
$8
2012, 86 pages

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

Sample excerpts:

Size and weight build model for a tubesat-type 1kg limit picosatellite

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First: where will your picosatellite go? It’s nearly a given that your picosatellite will go to low earth orbit (LEO), a broad band ranging from about 150km up to perhaps 600km.
Above the ionosphere, the space environment can be hostile because of solar activity. Below it, the radiation risks are much lower. This is why the ISS is kept in LEO. LEO is, at heart, about as safe as space can get. It’s also where your picosatellite is likely to live.

Your orbit is entirely determined by what your rocket provider has sold you. At the hobbyist level, you’re going to most likely get a standard 250km or so nearly circular orbit, either equatorial or polar. Such an orbit lasts (because of drag by the tenuous ionosphere) from 3 to 16 weeks before the satellite will suffer a fiery reentry.

At picosatellite masses, this means your satellite will go up and not return. You have less than three months to gather data. The picosatellite will then, essentially, vaporize neatly upon reentry (no space junk risk!)

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Let’s close with the idea of flight spares. The idea here is twofold. First, it is good to have a second satellite ready in case a mishap occurs to the first. Mishaps can range from rocket blew up all the way down to a mundane dropped it while carrying it to the truck.

Conceptually and more important, you want to build two or three satellites simultaneously for two reasons. First, you may make a construction mistake with one. Having a spare means you can continue to work without having to wait for new parts or fabrication.

Second, you will build one better than the other. Statistically, one of your builds will have better performance than the other. This better one is the one you will fly. By creating multiple builds, you give yourself and your skills a chance to practice, hone, and ultimately create a better picosatellite.

So build two and fly the one that does best in tests.

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The lowest fixed-price offering out there is InterOrbital Systems offering 1kg TubeSat launches for $8,000 (including a TubeSat kit) or a 1kg 1U CubeSat launch for $12,500. The company is still building toward its first launch, however.

InterOrbital Systems CPM mobile launch rail (image Copyright InterOrbital Systems 1996-2011)

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Superstorm Sandy struck the U.S. East Coast leaving a trail of destruction in its wake. Hugo Chavez sealed another term as Venezuela’s President and the space shuttle Endeavour took its final voyage through the L.A. streets.

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The space shuttle Endeavour is on its last mission today, a 12-mile creep through Los Angeles city streets on a 160-wheeled carrier. It is passing through neighborhoods and strip malls, headed toward its final destination, the California Science Center in South Los Angeles. At times, the shuttle has barely cleared trees, houses and and street signs along a course heavily prepared for the trip. The move will cost an estimated $10 million, according to the Exposition Park museum. Gathered here are a few images of Endeavour's last journey. [24 photos]

The space shuttle Endeavour is transported to The Forum arena for a stopover and celebration on its way to the California Science Center from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) on October 12, 2012 in Inglewood, California. The space shuttle Endeavour is on 12-mile journey from Los Angeles International Airport to the California Science Center to go on permanent public display. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

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Image Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech

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Taking pictures on another world has never been just point and click. For decades, unmanned probes from Earth have been venturing to distant planets, moons and other bodies—and for just as many decades, the images they have sent home have been composed and transmitted in a decidedly painstaking way. That is especially so in the case of the 360-degree panorama NASA is now releasing of the Curiosity rover’s landing site in Mars’s Gale Crater.

Even on Earth, you have to be selective when you photograph a landscape. After all, no matter how glorious your picture of one part of the Grand Canyon is, it by definition leaves out countless other, equally glorious parts. The only way to capture the whole sweep of the place is to take many small images and bit by bit, piece them all together. That’s hard enough when the camera is in your hand. Now imagine doing it when all of your hardware is 154 million miles away and the data has to be streamed back you in a comparative trickle that, even moving at light speed, takes 17 minutes to get here.

(See more: Inside Look at the Mars Curiosity Rover)

But NASA did just that to produce its full pirouette picture of the Marscape that surrounds Curiosity. The panorama was built from 30 smaller images shot by the rover’s Navcams—or navigation cameras—on Aug. 18 and Aug. 7. Each picture has a resolution of 1,024 pixels by 1,024 pixels, and all of them have been combined in such a way that the seams connecting them disappear. The lighter colored strip at the top right of the image is the rim of Gale Crater—chosen as the landing site because it was once a deep sea. Also visible is the peak of nearby Mount Sharp, which rises 3.4 mi. (5.5 km) into the rust-red sky. The portions of the picture in the Martian sky that appear gray are parts of the mosaic that have not yet been added, but will be the next time NASA updates the image.

As their name implies, the Navcams are used mostly for reconnaissance purposes—scouting out where the rover will drive and mapping the best route to get there. They were thus not designed with beauty in mind—and that means they shoot only in black and white. The cameras mounted atop Curiosity’s mast capture the full range of desert-like colors that define the brutally beautiful Gale Crater environment. The entire suite of on-board cameras will have a lot of work to do in the two years ahead—and every picture they take will be one worth saving. Once the rover starts rolling, after all, it will never be staying in any one place for long.

(Related: Window on Infinity: Pictures from Space)

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Fifty one years ago this week, a microwave transmission from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California was received at Bell Laboratories in Homdel, New Jersey, after bouncing off a giant silver balloon floating in space. It was Echo calling – our first passive space satellite, capable of relaying a message from one point on Earth to another.

It also provided the astronomical reference points needed to locate the city of Moscow more accurately than ever before, bringing the world one crucial step closer to all out nuclear war.

“If it works, it will be the first time voice has traveled from the Earth, up to a man-made moon, and back to earth again,” intones the narrator in NASA’s documentary about Echo, produced that year (see below). The film begins with the feel of a Twilight Zone episode, and doesn’t veer far. Which makes total sense, given just how sci-fi the satellite was.

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NASA / JPL-Caltech / Univ. of Ariz.

A long strip image from the high-resolution camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows the Curiosity rover's landing spot in Gale Crater, as well as the terrain leading south toward the mountain known as Aeolis Mons or Mount Sharp. The colors have been stretched to emphasize differences in surface composition. A dune field can be seen in deep shades of blue. Beyond the dunes, mesas and buttes are part of the terrain surrounding the 3-mile-high mountain.

By Alan Boyle

Follow @b0yle

Fresh imagery from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows the newly arrived Curiosity rover sitting at its landing site in Gale Crater, as well as the sand dunes and rugged terrain that the rover must pass through to conduct its $2.5 billion science mission.

The dunes are painted in colorful shades of ultramarine, but those aren't the true colors: Most of the color images from the orbiter's High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment, or HiRISE, are color-coded to emphasize subtle differences in surface composition. The shades of blue are actually dusty shades of gray to the human eye. The area around the rover itself has a blue tinge because of the dust that was disturbed during Curiosity's rocket-powered sky-crane landing on Aug. 5.

Even some of the pictures sent back from the surface by Curiosity have been brightened up to reflect Earthlike lighting conditions, said HiRISE's principal investigator, Alfred McEwen of the University of Arizona. Pictures from Mars look "blander" because the sunlight has to filter through red Martian dust in the atmosphere, he said. Many of the processed pictures from Curiosity's mission are being provided in both "true color" (Marslike) and "white-balanced" (Earthlike) versions.

Curiosity's primary mission is due to last one Martian year, or almost two Earth years, and the rover might need the first half of that mission to make its way south through the dunes. A picture from Curiosity's vantage point shows the dunes as a dark streak in the distance.

"We need to get to the clays which are just beyond that dune field that you see, and then up into the sulfate-bearing rocks which tend to form these buttes and mesas," said Ashwin Vasavada, deputy project scientist. "You're seeing really the scientific mission before you here."

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Vasavada said it's about 5 miles (8 kilometers) as the crow flies between the rover and its science targets at the base of a 3-mile-high mountain (5-kilometer-high) known as Aeolis Mons or Mount Sharp. McEwen said there's roughly 4 miles (6.5 kilometers) between the rover and the bottom edge of the orbital image, which was taken six days after Curiosity's landing from an altitude of about 168 miles (270 kilometers).

The rover is designed to analyze rocks and soil for the chemical signatures of potential habitability — using a laser zapper, an X-ray beam, a drill, an onboard laboratory and other high-tech gear. Curiosity is still going through its post-landing checkouts, but the show could start going on the road in a week or so.

More about Mars:

Alan Boyle is NBCNews.com's science editor. Connect with the Cosmic Log community by "liking" the log's Facebook page, following @b0yle on Twitter and adding the Cosmic Log page to your Google+ presence. To keep up with Cosmic Log as well as NBC News' other stories about science and space, sign up for the Tech & Science newsletter, delivered to your email in-box every weekday. You can also check out "The Case for Pluto," my book about the dwarf planet and the search for new worlds.

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