Monday, June 18, 2012

Arduinos in Space

It was pretty exciting recently when SpaceX (a private company) was able to build and launch a vehicle to bring supplies to the International Space Station.  Private companies have build spacecraft in the past, but this is the first time that they built and operated the entire project including the launch and recovery. Very nice.
It is really exciting to see how private industry is getting involved in space exploration.  How long do you think it will be until everyday hobbyists can get involved?  Well, that day may have come.

There is a new Kickstarter project to put Arduinos (those cool little development boards that we use to build a lot of projects here at Digital Diner) into a small satellite and send it up to space.  They are packing a set of Arduinos and a bunch of sensors into a 10cm cube called the ArduSat.  Hobbyists like you and I can pay a small fee to take control of the satellite for a week to run our own experiments using the Arduinos and sensors in outer space or just take pictures from some of the onboard cameras.  This is a very cool idea.  Take a look at their pitch in the video below.

Its a pretty interesting project although I have a few questions about its viability.  First, Arduino's aren't the most CPU power per weight or per watt, so I wonder if they are the best choice for this.  Second, some of the sensors that they are using might not be very useful in space.  For example, in the video below they show some sensors connected to an Arduino.  I see there are several sensors from SparkFun that we are quite familiar with.  For example, they mention pressure and temperature sensors, but its not clear to me that either of those will work in space.  At the end of the video, they show an inertial measurement unit (IMU) running what appears to be a sensor fusion algorithm.  However, that algorithm may not work properly in a device that is making rotations around the earth every 90 minutes.  The magnetometer readings would likely be changing much too fast to be able to cancel out drift.  

I'm just guessing here, but I think they have a lot of work to do to make a reasonable platform for space.  Still I find the project very compelling and I'd love to see it fly.

See the Kickstarter project here.
Via Dvice