For extreme hobbyists, the new kit offers a chance to launch personal projects into space.
- A company is selling kits to build and fly small satellites for $8,000.
- Interorbital Systems has planned a test flight of its Neptune rocket in August.
- Customers include hobbyists, universities and government research labs.
Bringing the do-it-yourself market to a whole new level, a California firm is selling kits to build a personal satellite -- and get it into space -- for $8,000.
The program, called TubeSat, is the brainchild of Randa and Roderick Milliron, a Mojave, Calif.-based couple who've been developing a bare-bones, low-cost rocket system for the past 14 years. Selling flights as a package deal with satellite-building kits is proving to be a winning combination, with more than a dozen customers signed up to fly on the debut launch early next year.
The first of four suborbital test flights is scheduled for August and there are customers for those as well.
"The acceptance and enthusiasm has been overwhelming," Randa Milliron, chief executive of Interorbital Systems, told Discovery News.
The customers include hobbyists like Alex Antunes, who is customizing his TubeSat into a device that can detect changes in the ionosphere in a digital format for musicians' use.
"You can listen to the ionosphere and get a sense of what space is like. Space is a very interesting place and sound is one way we can display it," Antunes said.
He ordered a kit late last year. It contains the shell components for a satellite including a printed circuit board, solar cells, batteries, a combination transmitter-receiver, microcomputer, electronic components, blueprints and a structural shell that's about the size of a one-liter bottle.
Antunes found a company in Canada that has sensors he wants, thermal and magnetic detectors that will be able to convert the dance of the ionosphere into a blueprint for music. The data will be transmitted real-time via ham radio and recorded for distribution via the Internet at no charge.
"This is a solo project," Antunes said. "It's not as hard as it looks. It's very much a hobbyist kind of thing."
Most TubeSat customers, so far, are universities, including the Naval Postgraduate School in California, Morehead State University in Kentucky, and the University of Sydney in Australia. A private high school has signed up and so has the United Kingdom's Defense, Science and Technology Laboratory.
"There's been a massive number of shelved experiments," Milliron said, caused by a dearth of low-cost launch systems. "This is an opportunity for the academic community to fly affordably."
Interorbital's rocket, called the Neptune, will place up to 32 TubeSats and 10 slightly larger off-the-shelf spacecraft called CubeSats into orbit about 192 miles above Earth. At that altitude, the spacecraft will orbit for about six weeks, then burn up in the atmosphere
Launches will take place from the island of 'Eua, located in the Kingdom of Tonga, in the South Pacific.