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  • Writer's pictureMatt Russell

#208 - SatNOGS - Cubesats Special part 1

This week Sven joins Matt to talk to Corey Shields about communicating with Cubesats with open architecture and to chat about Cubesats in the first part of our Cubesat special

They Said "That's the dumbest idea I've ever heard. Nobody's going to use this toy."
We said, "Who the heck cares. We'll go ahead and use it. We're using it for education."

Bob Twiggs: Stanford University


Corey Shields of SatNOGS

SatNOGS is an open-source ground station and network, optimized for modularity, built from readily available and affordable tools and resources.

Pic of Corey's personal ground station. A higher-end example, with azimuth and elevation tracking, along with high gain antennas. While it is ideal, it is not all necessary to get started.

Behind this are a standard raspberry pi and an rtlsdr usb device. Getting started instructions are found again at (click "Build")

Corey mentioned the ISS Astronaut contacts, This particular school contact was a direct radio link to and from the school and picked up ('observed') by many different satNOGS stations, including Corey's and this recording from his observation can be played from the "Audio" tab at

One of the satNOGS contributors often collects these astronaut contact observations together, maps the path along with the ground stations, and shares in a forum post:

Other Links Corey mentioned  LSF info site  documentation, getting started  Crowd-sourced satellite database and final collection point for data  'command and control' service for the automated ground stations  Crowd-sourced dashboards of data for satellites satNOGS have written decoders for.  (goes back to the topic of collaboration with sat operators.. or lack thereof)

And the Dwingeloo Radio Observatory telescope being used as a SatNOGS station  :)  



1968 – Soviet cosmonaut Georgy Beregovoy pilots Soyuz 3 into space for a four-day mission. Georgy Timofeyevich was 47 and the earliest-born human to go to orbit, being born three months before John Glenn, (later than X-15 pilot Joe Walker who made 2 suborbital space flights

Beregovoy twice manoeuvred to rendezvous with the unmanned Soyuz 2, but was unable to establish a direct physical link to the craft. This was hot on the heels of the successful 11 day Apollo 7 Mission.


Space Legend of the Week.

Sarah Lee Lippincott (October 26, 1920 – February 28, 2019) Centenary of birth

  • She was professor emerita of astronomy at Swarthmore College

  • Director Emerita of Sproul Observatory

  • Pioneer, using astrometry to determine the character of binary stars and search for extrasolar planets.

  • she worked closely with Peter van de Kamp

  • Third wife of the late TV personality Dave Garroway, the founding host of NBC's Today show. They met while she hosted a tour of Soviet observatories. She would set up a depression lab at Penn Uni after his suicide.

  • She also married Christian B. Zimmerman

  • President of the International Astronomical Union

  • She hunted for Exoplanets and thought she had uncovered a few in nearby stars, but over the years these have not been proven and have been discounted. The paper “Astrometric analysis of Lallande 21185.”

  • She did, however, use the same technique to help astronomers resolve images of difficult nearby binaries.

  • Inspirational figure - Students include AStronomy giant Sandra Faber.


Sven joins me for a small Sat Special.

Gottfried Konecny from the University of Hannover defines the range like this

Large satellite >1000 Kg

Medium satellite - 500Kg to 1000Kg

Minisatellite 100Kg to 500Kg

Microsatellite 10Kg to 100Kg

Nanosatellite 1Kg to 10Kg

Pico satellite 0.1Kg to 1Kg

Femto satellite <0.1Kg

So Sputnik 1957 was indeed a Micro Satellite at 83kg, and actually had two of the common features of pretty much any satellite, a comms device and a power supply.

Why have miniaturize at all?

  • Cheaper to launch

  • Can piggyback in the leftover spaces

  • Cheaper design

  • Mass production

  • Easy to build a constellation

    • To cover a larger area for earth observation for example

    • Multiple data points in orbit

  • Inspector satellites

  • Allow Universities, schools and even clubs to build a satellite

  • Testing old hardware

  • Data relays - Even in Deep Space.

  • Distributed systems can be easier to commission in stages, fail more gracefully and survive hostile attacks or damage. Fractionated spacecraft is a satellite architecture where the functional capabilities of a conventional monolithic spacecraft are distributed across multiple modules which interact through wireless links

  • Less to burn up in the atmosphere on re-entry

  • Less orbital debris

So the idea really is to have more useful features than just being able to bleep, although of course, Sputnik was the inspiration almost immediately for the thought of GPS.

What you really want are

  • Comms, up and down with antennas

  • Sensors - Optical, xray, infrared, Lidar, etc etc. (the actual useful bit)

  • An Experiment perhaps

  • Attitude control- to orientate the Satellite

  • Positioning - onboard thrusters

  • Power control and generation (batteries and solar)

  • Structure

  • Computing power

  • Thermal Management

  • Launch protocols

Facts as of 2020 October 4 - According to the Nanosats Database

Nanosats launched: 1417

CubeSats launched: 1302

Interplanetary CubeSats: 2

Nanosats destroyed on launch: 93

Most nanosats on a rocket: 103

Countries with nanosats: 68

Companies in database: 518

Forecast: over 2500 nanosats to launch in 6 years

The first 7 CubeSats in launched in 2003!! On a Rokot

Started in 1999, the CubeSat Project began as a collaborative effort between Prof. Jordi PuigSuari at California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) and Prof. Bob

Twiggs at Stanford University's Space Systems Development Laboratory (SSDL). Has become an international collaboration of over 100 universities, high schools, and private firms developing picosatellites containing scientific, private, and government payloads.

I’ve been watching a channel called RG SAT on Youtube where he has been trying to build a cubesat for less than $1000


For Microsatellites and less

The Cubesat

A cube is 10cm x 10cm x 10cm and this can be doubled tripled etc to make bigger satellites with multiple ways of doing it. Stacking them, putting side by side, but if you stick to the form factor it makes launch easier and component procurement easier.

I think of the Structure as like the Sea Container, as simple convention made shipping around the world so much easier and cheaper, the form factor is like the sea container.

Other Forms factors

  • PocketQubes are 5 cm cubes compared to 10 cm CubeSats.

  • TubeSats are 8.9 cm in diameter, 12.7 cm in length and weigh 0.75 kg. First 2 were launched in 2016 on TuPOD 3U CubeSat from GAUSS. Using a CubeSat to deploy 2 TubeSats makes launch costs comparable to 1U-2U CubeSat, but opportunities are very rare. Their only advantage seems to be simpler and less expensive deployer for rockets.

  • SunCubes are 3 cm cubes. 1F is 3 cm × 3 cm × 3 cm and 3F is 3 cm × 3 cm × 9 cm. Goal is to make satellites even more affordable. None have been launched, but they were announced in 2016. 1U CubeSat might fit up to 27 single 1F SunCubes. Assuming $80,000 to launch 1U CubeSat then one SunCube launch might be only $3000!

  • Femtosats, like the Kicksat Sprite just a little cracker sized chip (3.5cm) with whiskers

KickSat-2 was deployed on the Educational Launch of Nanosatellites 16 mission through NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative. November 2018 on the SS John Young Cygnus

The three-unit CubeSat is designed with two compartments, one unit to run the spacecraft, providing power, communications and data-handling, while the other two units house and deploy the Sprites. All the materials for the Sprites and the satellite bus are commercially available at extremely low costs.

Comms, and antennas

Many CubeSats use an omnidirectional monopole or dipole antenna built with a commercial measuring tape ...seriously

some companies offer high-gain antennae for CubeSats, but their deployment and pointing systems are significantly more complex.

NASA have X-Band and KA Band stuff

Commercial providers make VHF/UHF and S-Band Transceivers

You can talk directly to ground stations or you can talk to constellation like GlobalStar, Iridium and Inmarsat constellations through a modem

Some Lasers comms are available from Tesat in Germany that look very cool LEO to Ground Range

So famous MicroSatellites include

In the Micro Satellite range >10Kg

MarCO (A and B)- Mars Cube One. Two of them one called Wall-E the other called EVE

  • Size of a large Briefcase, but a very heavy brieface with about 3 very big gaming laptops worth of weight at 13.5Kg

  • 6U - stowed size of about 14.4 inches (36.6 centimeters) by 9.5 inches (24.3 centimeters) by 4.6 inches (11.8 centimeters).

  • First Cubesats to go into deep Space

  • Took pictures along the way

  • Helped relay data back to earth for Insights landing

  • successfully demonstrated a "bring-your-own" communications relay option for use by future Mars missions in the critical few minutes between Martian atmospheric entry and touchdown.

EcAMSat, or E. coli Anti Microbial Satellite,

  • NASA's first 6U CubeSat,

  • developed to investigate the effects of microgravity on the antibiotic resistance of E. coli.

  • The spacecraft was launched aboard an Orbital ATK Antares rocket from Wallops Flight Facility on 12 November 2017, and was deployed from the International Space Station on 20 November 2017.

Some Famous Nano sats


  • 1998-07-07

  • Demonstration of low-cost access to space without performance reduction. Bidirectional data transfer between autonomous environmental stations and the satellite. Tracking of medium-sized and large mammals. The main payload are two communication transceivers for store and forward communication with a baud-rate of 1200 and 2400 baud. Reaction wheel performance. Store and forward communication.

  • 8.5Kg


  • amongst the first Cube sats launched, measuring extremely low frequencies to test the theory that these are precursor to earthquakes,

  • Stanford Students with the help of QuakeFinder housed a 3U Cube Sat

  • 5kg

  • 24 month mission

Planet Labs Doves

  • Another 3U cubesat

  • Size of a shoe box

  • 5kg

  • Oldest still going from 2015 launch on an Atlas V

  • More than 150 in orbit

  • 3.7m resolution

Planetary Society Light Sail 2

  • 3u cubeset, unfolding a 30m² solar sail

  • First to demonstrate solar sailing in a cubesat form factor

  • Launched last summer, still in orbit

  • First open-source cubesat


Many different types here

  • P-PODs (Poly-PicoSatellite Orbital Deployers) were designed with CubeSats to provide a common platform for secondary payloads, The P-POD Mk III has capacity for three 1U CubeSats, or other 0.5U, 1U, 1.5U, 2U, or 3U CubeSats combination up to a maximum volume of 3U

  • NanoRacks CubeSat Deployer (NRCSD) on the International Space Station being the most popular method of CubeSat deployment as of 2014

  • P-POD is limited to launching a 3U CubeSat at most, the NRCSD can launch a 6U (10×10×68.1 cm) CubeSat and another the ISIPOD can launch a different form of 6U CubeSat (10×22.63×34.05 cm).

  • Most are deployed by the ISS or the Launch vehicle, some can be deployed by the payload

  • A satellite from Peru was launched by hand on a spacewalk. chasqui, messengers of the Inca Empire. Russian cosmonaut Oleg Artemyev released it during a spacewalk on Aug. 18, 2014.

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