PocketQube micro-satellite shop set to go live
We recently covered some interesting news in the world of Cubesats, but did you know there’s an even smaller micro-satellite platform called a PocketQube? It was news to me, too. But I guess its also an inevitable development as the progress of miniaturisation of components marches on.
Small satellites are something of a zeitgeist at present – smaller satellites cost less to build, less to launch and they allow individuals (albeit individuals with surprisingly deep pockets) access to space with technology that while not bleeding edge is still at least part of the sword.
The Cubesat standardised form factor is a cube 10cm on a side and weighing a max of 1 kilogram. A PocketQube is one-eighth of that – only 50mm on a side and a maximum mass of 125g. They haven’t had that much exposure in the popular press compared to Cubesats, but I would imagine that this is all set to change due to advances in electronic miniaturisation. A couple have gone into space aboard the Russian Dnepr converted ICBM launch system like the $50sat pictured at the top of this page, a micro-satellite designed to test minaturised components for transmitting and receiving data from this new breed of tiny satellites.
They can also be very sophisticated despite their small size – this offering from Stadako UG, known as the WREN, has miniature pulsed plasma thrusters, reaction wheels and even has a camera that transmits images via slow scan TV (which is also a pretty cool Kerbal Space Program easter egg that Scott Manley does a great explanation of). It’s had a bit of a trouble life but if you’re an amateur ham radio operator you might be able to pick it up or even control it for a small stretch of time.
One of the people who wishes to be at the bleeding edge of PocketQube satellites is Tom Walkinshaw, a Glasgow-based entrepeneur who recently managed to fund his idea for a Pocketqube satellite component shop on Kickstarter. He’s not too far away from another satellite shop, Clyde Space, also based in Glasgow but only stocking Cubesat sized (and priced) components. Walkinshaw hopes that by launching the PocketQubeShop website on January 10th that virtually everybody from universities to the average guy in the street will be able to buy and launch a Pocketqube satellite for space based science experiments, comparing them to the rise of personal computers at home and in the workplace.
He makes a damn fine point – despite Cubesats being a lot cheaper than the full sized equivalent that would be launched by NASA, the military or a telecommunications company, they are still very expensive and generally out of reach to the average citizen or company. A simple 1U cubesat solar panel, for example, goes for about $2600 if it forms part of the side of the cube, or $5000 if its deployable (Clydespace). Not exactly an affordable prospect for the average citizen or a research organisation with a small budget.
Going for an even smaller form factor should mean smaller components and smaller power requirements which should mean they become a lot cheaper to build compared to Cubesats and as a smaller mass they should cost a lot less to launch to orbit which to date has always formed the majority cost of Cubesats. Tom claims the costs could be as small as 1/6th (for a IP 50x50x50mm cube) to 1/3rd (for a 2.5P 153x50x50mm cuboid) as launching a single 1U cubesat to orbit.
As an example he models a 1P Pocketqube as costing about $20,000 to get to orbit which is about £12,200 at the moment. Its still a big chunk of money, but compared to the Cubesat solar panels mentioned earlier you could either have a tiny 1P Pocketcube in space – or you could have a small pile of 1U Cubesat components sitting on your desk.
Given the current trends in small space technology, I believe that Tom stands a good chance with the PocketQube form factor being an attractive option for small satellite builders who want to go to space efficiently and economically.
Tom’s PocketQubeShop.com will open for business on January 10th, but you can follow him in the meantime at @PocketQubeShop.
Featured Image : The $50sat 1 .5U PocketQube satellite compared to a hand radio.