Pocket-sized satellites are about to be deployed in space, and the most important elements of these tiny spacecraft run on TI technology.
Cornell University aerospace engineering PhD student Zac Manchester started this project as an undergrad student, focusing on packing as much technology as possible onto a 1.3 inch-by-1.3 inch satellite he calls a ‘sprite’ (named a ‘sprite’ because of its very small size). For the brains of the ‘sprite’ satellite, a TI product was the perfect fit.
“We found the CC430 chip when it was still just experimental silicon. We got some of the very first development kits, and it remains the current chip set on these ‘sprites,’” said Zac.
The CC430 combines an MSP430™ MCU device with a long-range, low-power integrated radio frequency (RF) transceiver that’s powerful enough to communicate with base stations on Earth while orbiting in space at an altitude of 175-225 miles.
Zac successfully created the ‘sprites,’ but the next challenge quickly arose. As he put it, they “needed a ride to space.” The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has an ongoing program called ELaNa, where university students and others can apply for auxiliary payload spots (empty bays where satellites can be placed) aboard upcoming rocket missions. Zac applied and won a spot on SpaceX-3, a commercial resupply mission to the International Space Station.
To build the nano-satellite that would go into the auxiliary payload of SpaceX-3, Zac started a fundraiser on the crowd-funding website Kickstarter, where people who donated could get access to one of the 104 tiny spacecraft flying into space. Zac got the funding he needed, and traveled to NASA Ames Research Center in California, spending 18-months building the one foot long nano-satellite that included avionics, a flight computer, radios, solar panels and slots for the 104 ‘sprites.’ Zach named the nano-satellite ‘KickSat’ in honor of the funding for his research.
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Filed Under: Aerospace + defense, Student programs