Montana State Satellite

In 2001, I was part of a team that set out to replicate the space science performed by Explorer-1 in 1958. Explorer-1 was 25 pounds, and our solution was a 2.2 pound, 10cm by 10cm cube called MEROPE. I was on the payroll for a few summers, working on the grounds station design, researching tracking software and antenna theory.

Our launch provider was set to launch another twenty some cube sats like ours atop a converted intercontinental ballistic missile payload. After getting pushed out past my graduation date, the launch finally went down from Kahzikstan in July of 2006. Though the Dnepr rockets had a 97% success rate, our satellite ended up in a crater of parts and pollutants during the second minute after liftoff…

msu merope

Rest in peaces.

That hydrolic failure was a setback. The good news was the fact that the engineering plans were complete and ground station built…the rest ended up waiting on a *cheap ride to orbit for the next version. The bad news was that the next launch also failed, as the velocity was too low to maintain orbit. 0 for 2.

The newest version manifested itself as Explorer-1[prime]:


E1P launched successfully on October 28th. The HAM radio community has been busy tracking the orbiter along with the team from MSU’s SSEL…as of yesterday afternoon, they had over 1000 packets received.

The mission has two main scientific systems in play: a passive dampening system and a Geiger tube to measure the Van Allen radiation belts. It is a proof of concept per se…showing that some solid science can be done on a budget. The cube is in an elliptical polar orbit, and high enough to stay aloft for a decade. As so long as the com board stays functional, this satellite can be monitored via HAM (@ K7MSU…don’t quote me on that) frequencies. MSU has prepared a UI to snag and analyze the packets…I might play around with that down the road.

Currently, the satellite is loud. They have it configured to blast huge signals still, as the dampening system is still doing its thing. Once the trajectory smooths, it will be tuned down and should be more predictable.

I’ll be watching this one. Good stuff from the alma mater.

MSU Satellite Spoiler

Ten years and a few months ago, I became a licensed HAM operator…

HAM Radio License
I'm going HAM

That means, without any doubt, that the satellite that MSU stuck in orbit last week has indeed been a long time coming.

I’m running up to campus for the mission statement and a possible down-link tomorrow afternoon…stay tuned for this one. We have entered full-on geek mode.


I’ve already gone on record saying that Richard Branson is my hero. In a ‘suck it, NASA’ move, Branson managed to take another step towards privatising space travel, by launching the shit out of SpaceShipTwo via a piggy-backed flight.

fuck everything...we're doing it ourselves


Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo made its first captive carry flight early this morning at the Mojave Air and Space Port. SpaceShipTwo, which was christened the VSS Enterprise at its unveiling in December, is being carried by WhiteKnightTwo on its first test flight.

According to Aviation Week, SpaceShipTwo has been undergoing ground testing with WhiteKnightTwo recently, but this is the first time the two aircraft have left the ground. SpaceShipTwo is expected to go through a similar flight test program as its much smaller predecessor, SpaceShipOne, but with much more rigorous and wider ranging evaluations in order to certify the vehicle for public use.

During SpaceShipOne’s development, two captive carries were followed by several glide tests where the space ship is released from several different altitudes to evaluate its flight characteristics. After glide flights, the flight test team at Scaled moved on to powered flight, eventually culminating with the first flight into space on June 21, 2004.

WhiteKnightTwo made its first flight on December 21, 2008 with test pilot Peter Siebold at the controls. At Oshkosh, we caught up with Siebold and got a first hand account of what it is like to fly the 140 foot wingspan, twin fuselaged behemoth that carries SpaceShipTwo.

Virgin Galactic has not set a date for commercial space flights, but has said passenger flights would not happen before 2011 at the earliest. According to the company, once glide flights are complete, the team will progress through subsonic powered flights, supersonic powered flights, and finally suborbital space flights. It will then undergo a lengthy certification process with the Federal Aviation Administration before launching the first commercial passenger space flights.

Seaplane was awesome…this is tubular. Perhaps more things that have been traditionally government mainstays should be tackled by bad-ass proprietors. FOR THE WIN.

Maui Cameras (and space science)

I grew up approximately 920 miles from the Pacific Ocean. The border between Low-Earth-Orbit and Mid-Earth-Orbit is right around 1240 miles. It is safe to say that I was closer to the ISS or MIR than I was to an Ocean. This might help to explain my eerie attraction to anything oceanic…Oceanic 815 included. Lost, FTW!

Needless to say, I jumped on the opportunity to shed some light about Hawaii Photo Rental’s newly launched Maui Camera Store. Why not? Make a few bucks for some camera research…sign me up. Plus, it gives me the opportunity to superimpose the creepy sexy robot-lady in a beautiful aquatic setting…

hang 10
hang 01010 (binary rules)

First, a bit of geography…Maui is the Valley Island…the second largest of the bunch. As the nickname alludes, there are some serious valleys in Maui…puts the valley shots from Lost (on Oahu) to shame. Volcanos? Check. Mountains? You bet. Waterfalls? Better believe it. Space Science? Oddly enough, yes. The Haleakala Observatory is over 10,000 feet above the sea on a dormant volcano…awesome. Check the view…

Haleakala. breathtaking.

Obviously, Maui Camera is the place to go for all photography supplies above sea level. What about said supplies below and equally at sea level? They have you covered there, too. In order to take photos like the one above, you will need to pick up a Camera Water Housing, unless you wish to render your camera useless. Observe:

water (maybe hurricane) proof

Maui cameras, Maui lenses, lighting, light meters…you name it, Maui Camera is your spot. For something that will be used once, why buy if you can rent? They offer reservations…hit a link to find out more.

I’m pretty pumped after putting that together. Maybe we can save up some loot and honeymoon to Maui…space science and snorkeling…my kind of trip.

Russia to Send Spacecraft to Asteroid?

In a move that sounds a whole lot like the plot of Armageddon, Russia’s space chief has announced his agency will consider sending a spacecraft to a large asteroid to knock it off its path in order to prevent a possible collision with Earth. Sweet. the asteroid
soyuz...the launch vehicle

At least it is comforting to know that a simple slug will do the job, and no nuclear bombs are needed. I have money on them botching this job. Am I just bitter that my undergrad satelitte exploded at launch over the former USSR??? Maybe.