Hackers plan space satellites to combat censorship
by David Meyer / 4 January 2012

The scheme was outlined at the Chaos Communication Congress in Berlin. The project’s organisers said the Hackerspace Global Grid will also involve developing a grid of ground stations to track and communicate with the satellites. Longer term they hope to help put an amateur astronaut on the moon. Hobbyists have already put a few small satellites into orbit – usually only for brief periods of time – but tracking the devices has proved difficult for low-budget projects. The hacker activist Nick Farr first put out calls for people to contribute to the project in August. He said that the increasing threat of internet censorship had motivated the project. “The first goal is an uncensorable internet in space. Let’s take the internet out of the control of terrestrial entities,” Mr Farr said. He cited the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the United States as an example of the kind of threat facing online freedom. If passed, the act would allow for some sites to be blocked on copyright grounds.

Beyond balloons
Although space missions have been the preserve of national agencies and large companies, amateur enthusiasts have launched objects into the heavens. High-altitude balloons have also been used to place cameras and other equipment into what is termed “near space”. The balloons can linger for extended amounts of time – but are not suitable for satellites. The amateur radio satellite Arissat-1 was deployed into low earth orbit last year via a spacewalk by two Russian cosmonauts from the International Space Station as part of an educational project. Students and academics have also launched other objects by piggybacking official rocket launches. However, these devices have often proved tricky to pinpoint precisely from the ground. According to Armin Bauer, a 26-year-old enthusiast from Stuttgart who is working on the Hackerspace Global Grid, this is largely due to lack of funding. “Professionals can track satellites from ground stations, but usually they don’t have to because, if you pay a large sum [to send the satellite up on a rocket], they put it in an exact place,” Mr Bauer said. In the long run, a wider hacker aerospace project aims to put an amateur astronaut onto the moon within the next 23 years. “It is very ambitious so we said let’s try something smaller first,” Mr Bauer added.

Ground network
The Berlin conference was the latest meeting held by the Chaos Computer Club, a decades-old German hacker group that has proven influential not only for those interested in exploiting or improving computer security, but also for people who enjoy tinkering with hardware and software. When Mr Farr called for contributions to Hackerspace, Mr Bauer and others decided to concentrate on the communications infrastructure aspect of the scheme. He and his teammates are working on their part of the project together with Constellation, an existing German aerospace research initiative that mostly consists of interlinked student projects. In the open-source spirit of Hackerspace, Mr Bauer and some friends came up with the idea of a distributed network of low-cost ground stations that can be bought or built by individuals. Used together in a global network, these stations would be able to pinpoint satellites at any given time, while also making it easier and more reliable for fast-moving satellites to send data back to earth. “It’s kind of a reverse GPS,” Mr Bauer said. “GPS uses satellites to calculate where we are, and this tells us where the satellites are. We would use GPS co-ordinates but also improve on them by using fixed sites in precisely-known locations.” Mr Bauer said the team would have three prototype ground stations in place in the first half of 2012, and hoped to give away some working models at the next Chaos Communication Congress in a year’s time. They would also sell the devices on a non-profit basis. “We’re aiming for 100 euros (£84) per ground station. That is the amount people tell us they would be willing to spend,” Mr Bauer added.

Experts say the satellite project is feasible, but could be restricted by technical limitations. “Low earth orbit satellites such as have been launched by amateurs so far, do not stay in a single place but rather orbit, typically every 90 minutes,” said Prof Alan Woodward from the computing department at the University of Surrey. “That’s not to say they can’t be used for communications but obviously only for the relatively brief periods that they are in your view. It’s difficult to see how such satellites could be used as a viable communications grid other than in bursts, even if there were a significant number in your constellation.” This problem could be avoided if the hackers managed to put their satellites into geostationary orbits above the equator. This would allow them to match the earth’s movement and appear to be motionless when viewed from the ground. However, this would pose a different problem. “It means that they are so far from earth that there is an appreciable delay on any signal, which can interfere with certain Internet applications,” Prof Woodward said. “There is also an interesting legal dimension in that outer space is not governed by the countries over which it floats. So, theoretically it could be a place for illegal communication to thrive. However, the corollary is that any country could take the law into their own hands and disable the satellites.”

Need for knowledge
Apart from the ground station scheme, other aspects of the Hackerspace project that are being worked on include the development of new electronics that can survive in space, and the launch vehicles that can get them there in the first place. According to Mr Farr, the “only motive” of the Hackerspace Global Grid is knowledge. He said many participants are frustrated that no person has been sent past low Earth orbit since the Apollo 17 mission in 1972. “This [hacker] community can put humanity back in space in a meaningful way,” Farr said. “The goal is to get back to where we were in the 1970s. Hackers find it offensive that we’ve had the technology since before many of us were born and we haven’t gone back.” Asked whether some might see negative security implications in the idea of establishing a hacker presence in space, Farr said the only downside would be that “people might not be able to censor your internet. Hackers are about open information,” Farr added. “We believe communication is a human right.”


by David Meyer  /  January 3, 2012

Hackers have announced work on a ground station scheme that would make amateur satellites more viable, as part of an aerospace scheme that ultimately aims for the moon. The Hackerspace Global Grid (HGG) project hopes to make it possible for amateurs to more accurately track the home-brewed satellites. As these devices tend to be launched by balloon, they are not placed at a precise point in orbit as professional satellites deployed by rocket usually are. Armin Bauer, one of the three German hobbyists involved in the HGG, said at the Chaos Communication Congress in Berlin that the system involved a reversal of the standard GPS technique. The scheme was announced at the event, which is Europe’s largest hacker conference. “GPS uses satellites to calculate where we are, and this tells us where the satellites are,” Bauer said on Friday, according to the BBC. “We would use GPS co-ordinates but also improve on them by using fixed sites in precisely-known locations.”

According to the HGG website, enthusiasts would site the ground stations using coordinates not only from the US’s GPS system, but also those from the EU’s Galileo, Russia’s GLONASS and ground surveys. A major aim of the wider ‘Hacker Space Program’ is to create a satellite system for internet communication that is uncensorable by any country. The hackers also want to put someone on the moon by 2034 — something that has not been done since the Apollo 17 mission 39 years ago. Bauer described the moon mission as “very ambitious”. As for the anti-censorship aspects of the scheme, the HGG team said on their site that they are “not yet in a technical position to discuss details”. They also noted that the modular ground stations, which are intended to work out at a non-profit sales price of €100 (£84) each, would be able to work without the internet. “Then you will have to deploy four receiver stations and connect them to your laptop(s) or collect all storage media added to them, where all received data is stored on,” the team wrote. “Then you have to manage the data handling and processing by your own.” However, internet connectivity is the plan for most of the HGG’s usage. The team is working on the project alongside Constellation, an German aerospace research platform for academics that would use the distributed network to derive crucial data.

According to Bauer and his colleagues, the internet connectivity would be of “bare minimum” bandwidth that would be enough to keep basic communications going if needed. “The first step is establishing a means of accurate synchronisation for the distributed network,” the team explained. “Next up are building various receiver modules (ADS-B, amateur satellites, etc) and data processing of received signals. A communication/control channel (read: sending data) is a future possibility but there are no fixed plans on how this could be implemented yet.” The HGG team hopes to have working prototypes in the first half of the year, with production units ready for distribution by the end of 2012. These would be sold, but people would be able to build their own as well. If the Hacker Space Program really does take off, the satellites would be out of any country’s legal jurisdiction, but this would also leave any country that is capable of doing so free to disable them in some way. The HGG team admitted on their site that there would nothing they could do to stop this happening. “Since we don’t have actual satellites yet, this falls in the category of problems we’re going to solve once they occur,” they wrote. “We’re doing this because we want to and because it’s fun. We’re trying to concentrate on reasons why this will work, not why it won’t.”

Building a Distributed Satellite Ground Station Network – A Call To Arms
Hackers need satellites. Hackers need internet over satellites. Satellites require ground stations. Let’s build them!

As proposed by Nick Farr et al at CCCamp11, we – the hacker community – are in desperate need for our own communication infrastructure. So here we are, answering the call for the Hacker Space Program with our proposal of a distributed satellite communications ground station network. An affordable way to bring satellite communications to a hackerspace near you. We’re proposing a multi-step approach to work towards this goal by setting up a distributed network of ground stations which will ensure a 24/7 communication window – first tracking, then communicating with satellites. The current state of a proof of concept implementation will be presented. This is a project closely related to the academic femto-satellite movement, ham radio, Constellation@Home.

The area of small satellites (femto-satellite <0.1 kg up to mini-satellite 100-500 kg) is currently pressed forward by Universities and enables scientific research at a small budget. Gathered data, both scientific and operational, requires communication between satellites and ground stations as well as to the final recipients of the data. One either has to establish own transmission stations or rent already existing stations. The project “distributed ground station” is an extension to the project which will offer, at its final expansion state, the ability to receive data from satellites and relay them to the final recepients. It is therefore proposed that a world-wide distributed network of antennas is to be set up which will be connected via the internet allowing the forwarding of received signals to a central server which will in turn forward signals to further recepients. Individual antennas will be set up by volunteers (Citizen Scientists) and partner institutions (Universities, institutes, companies). The core objective of the project is to develop an affordable hardware platform (antenna and receiver) to be connected to home computers as well as the required software. This platform should enable everyone to receive signals from femto-satellites at a budget and in doing so, eradicating black patches where there is currently no ground station to receive signals of satellites passing over-head. Emphasise is put on contributions by volunteers and ham radio operators who can contribute both passively by setting up a receiver station or actively by shaping the project making it a community driven effort powered by open-source hardware and applications.

Purposes The distributed ground stations will enable many different uses. Using distributed ground stations one could receive beacon signals of satellites and triangulate their position and trajectory. It would therefore be possible to determine the kepler elements right after launching of a new satellite without having to rely on official reports made at low frequency. Beacon tracking is also not limited to just satellites but can be used to track other objects like weather balloons and areal drones and record their flight paths. Additionally, beacon signals (sender ID, time, transmission power) could be augmented with house-keeping data to allow troubleshooting in cases where a main data feed is interrupted. Details regarding the protocol and maximum data packet length are to be defined during the feasibility study phase. Furthermore, distributed ground stations can be used as “data dumping” receivers. This can be used to reduce load on the main ground station as well as to more quickly distribute data to final recipients. The FunCube project, an out-reach project to schools, is already using a similar approach. Another expansion stage would be increasing the bandwidth of the individual receivers. As a side-effect, distributed ground station could also be used to analyse meteorite scattering and study effects in the ionosphere by having a ground-based sender with a known beacon signal to be reflected off meteorites and/or the iononosphere and in turn received by the distributed ground stations. Depending on the frequency used further applications in the field of atmospheric research, eg. local and regional properties of the air and storm clouds, can be imagined. Depending on local laws and guidelines, antennas could also be used to transmit signals. The concept suggests the following expansion stages:

  1. Feasibility study for the individual expansion stages
  2. Beacon-Tracking and sender triangulation
  3. Low-bandwidth satellite-data receiver (up to 10 Kbit/s)
  4. High-bandwidth satellite-data receiver (up to 10 Mbit/s)
  5. Support for data transmission Each stage is again split up into sub-projects to deal with hardware and software design and develoment, prototyping, testing and batch/mass production, Network The networking concept demands that all distributed ground stations are to be connected via the internet. This can be achieved using the Constellation platform. Constellation is a distributed computing project used already for various simulations related to aerospace applications. The system is based on computation power donated by volunteers which is combined to effectively build a world-wide distributed super-computer. The software used to do this is BOINC (Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing) which also offers support for additional hardware to eg. establish a sensor network. Another BOINC-project is the Quake Quatcher Network which is using accelleration sensors built into laptops or custom USB-dongles to detected earthquakes. Constellation could be enhanced to allow use of the distributed ground station hardware. Constellation is an academic student group of the DGLR (german aerospace society) at Stuttgart University and is supported by e.V and Selfnet e.V.. Ham radio and volunteers Special consideration is given to the ham radio community. Femto-satellites make use of the ham radio bands in the UHF, VHF, and S-Band range. As a part of the ham radio community ham radio operators should be treated as part of the network. Ham radio operators hold all required knowledge about the technology required to operate radio equipment and are also well distributed world-wide. To also make the system attractive to volunteers, hardware should be designed in a way that allows manufacturing and distribution on a budget. All designs should also be made public to allow own and improved builds of the system by the community. The hardware should be designed to be simple to use correctly and hard to be used wrong.

    [1] Constellation Plattform, [2] shackspace Stuttgart, References [1] IRS Kleinsatelliten, Universität Stuttgart, [2] Constellation Plattform, [3] BOINC, Berkely University, [4] Quake Catcher Network, [5] DGLR Bezirksgruppe Stuttgart, [6] e.V., [7] Selfnet e.V.,


Artist’s concept of the NanoSail-D spacecraft in orbit. Credit: NASA

NASA’s first solar sail makes unlikely comeback in orbit
by Stephen Clark / January 22, 2011

After testing the nerves of engineers, NASA confirmed Friday a tiny satellite unfurled an ultra-thin solar sail, a technology that has far-reaching applications both near Earth and in deep space. Project officials have “multiple confirmations” of a successful sail deployment, according to Dean Alhorn, the NanoSail-D mission’s project manager at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. The 8.5-pound spacecraft, NASA’s first solar sail mission, transmitted a beacon signal indicating it attempted to release the sail, which measures 100 square feet and is made of a polymer material called CP1. The membrane is about 3 microns thick, tens of times thinner than a human hair. Not only did engineers get a positive beacon signal from the spacecraft, but ground-based observers reported they saw a different signature from the satellite as it passed overhead. “That signature is consistent with the size change we would normally see if it deployed,” Alhorn said Friday. “What they saw was significant enough for us to have a high confidence that we did deploy the sail.” The deployment occurred around 10 p.m. EST Thursday, according to NASA.

The membrane was wound on a spindle inside a triple CubeSat spacecraft about the size of a loaf of bread. Four spring-loaded guide booms were designed pop out of the compact spacecraft, then the polymer membrane was supposed to stretch tight in a diamond shape within about five seconds. That’s if the sail deployment went as planned. This week marked a significant turnaround for the NanoSail-D project. Officials were growing concerned over the spacecraft’s silence after its scheduled deployment from a mothership satellite named FASTSAT. NanoSail-D launched Nov. 19 inside FASTSAT, a NASA technology demonstration satellite. The craft was programmed to compute a time to release NanoSail-D, but officials never heard from the miniature satellite after its scheduled Dec. 6 separation. Telemetry indicated FASTSAT commanded separation of the subsatellite and the container’s door opened, but NASA couldn’t find NanoSail-D, leading officials to believe it was stuck inside its carrier. “When it was stuck inside, it was very depressing after working on this for three years,” Alhorn said, adding there is no definitive answer for why the craft failed to deploy on the first try. More than six weeks later, FASTSAT radioed Earth that it released NanoSail-D. The deployment was spontaneous, according to NASA.

Alhorn said NanoSail-D’s battery will be drained over the next few days, so the satellite’s beacon signal could die soon. Amateur ham radio operators around the world are listening for radio transmissions from the satellite. But there is still an opportunity for visual observers to catch a glimpse of the satellite. Although officials expect NanoSail-D to be dim for most of its mission, brief flares in brightness could make it visible to the naked eye. The spacecraft is tumbling right now, Alhorn said, but atmospheric drag in low Earth orbit should stabilize the sail’s attitude like a kite. Officials expect NanoSail-D will remain in space between 70 and 120 days until it eventually succumbs to drag and burns up in Earth’s atmosphere. The uncertainty depends on solar activity, which can increase drag for low Earth orbit satellites, causing them to lose altitude.

NASA is calling upon satellite watchers to track the satellite and take pictures. The best time to view the craft is around dawn and dusk. When the sail is tumbling, it could be visible anywhere in the sky, but once its orientation stabilizes, the best viewing will be when the satellite is close to the horizon, according to NASA. Observers can enter their location to find sighting opportunities for NanoSail-D. Because the sail is flying just above the atmosphere, drag is the largest force acting upon the spacecraft. NanoSail-D’s primary objective was to deploy the solar sail and re-enter the atmosphere, not perform any complex maneuvers or flight tests. “We actually did what we said we were going to do,” Alhorn said. “We hope, if there’s enough solar thrust, we might be able to see how much power this design can get.”

Solar sails work by harnessing the pressure of sunlight. Units of light called photons generate miniscule levels of thrust when they collide with a solar sail, much like a kite or sailboat responds to wind. They don’t generate much thrust, but sails can propel lightweight spacecraft long distances into the solar system on timescales much faster than chemical rockets. A Japanese solar sail mission, named Ikaros, successfully demonstrated solar sailing on the way from Earth to Venus last summer. NanoSail-D’s potential applications are closer to home. NASA and the U.S. military are interested in inexpensive methods of removing retired satellites from clogged traffic lanes in orbit. The military tracks nearly 16,000 objects larger than 4 inches circling Earth, and even small debris moving at high speeds pose serious threats to active spacecraft. DARPA, the Pentagon’s research and development agency, is studying concepts to pull debris and old satellites out of operational orbits. Such a job is technically challenging, but legal and political hurdles loom even taller, according to experts.

Low-cost CubeSat spacecraft like NanoSail-D could prove solar sails can be packed inside canisters like parachutes, providing a disposal system when satellites are finished with their missions. Over time, sails could slow satellite velocities enough to move the craft to graveyard orbits or into the atmosphere for a destructive re-entry. “It’s possible we could use this sail in the future, or some system similar to it, to aerobrake or de-orbit existing satellites,” Alhorn said. The spacecraft cost about $250,000 to build and test, according to Alhorn. NanoSail-D was originally scheduled to test Alhorn’s solar sail concept in 2008, but the CubeSat was lost in a rocket mishap. NASA had built two NanoSail-D spacecraft, so the agency sought a launch opportunity for the ground spare. The U.S. Air Force provided a Minotaur 4 rocket to launch FASTSAT, NanoSail-D and a cache of military payloads from Alaska in November. “It looked like this thing was going to never going to work,” Alhorn said. “But when we got a launch, we were happy. Then it didn’t come out, and it was a another disappointment in a long chain of solar sail failures. But lo and behold, it ejected on its own.”


Sun-rider: Japanese solar sail propelled by sun’s photons
by Tiffany Hsu / July 15, 2010

Just when you thought your rooftop solar installation was cool, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency has outdone you by putting solar panels in space. And these ones do more than just generate power – they’re able to help maneuver and accelerate the unmanned spacecraft to which they’re attached. The so-called Ikaros solar sail is literally being pushed by sunlight, the space agency said on its website Friday. Particles of light from the sun known as photons exert pressure when they fall on the solar sail’s super-reflective panels, which are embedded into the sail. The small but ongoing thrust exerts about 0.0002 pounds of force on the nearly 700-pound Ikaros. The kite-like drone, which can spin at up to 20 revolutions per minute, has thin-film solar cells built into its 46-feet-wide, 66-feet-diagonal frame.

The craft was launched in May from the Tanegashima Space Center. Ikaros, which stands for Interplanetary Kite-craft Accelerated by Radiation of the Sun, was launched with the Akatsuki drone bound for orbit around Venus. Soon, scientists expect to be able to control the Ikaros’ velocity, according to the nonprofit Planetary Society of Pasadena, which is tracking the drone’s progress. The society is planning its own solar sail launch for about a year from now. The LightSail 1 will be lighter – around 10 pounds – and cost under $2 million.

The Japanese space agency already has other grand plans to collect solar power in space by 2030 and beam the energy down to Earth using projects covering several square miles and costing billions of dollars. “The main direction of all of this is that it’s a future propulsion method for planetary, interplanetary and maybe even interstellar missions,” said Louis Friedman, executive director of the Planetary Society. “Basically, it allows you to fly around the solar system without any fuel.” Now that’s true space-age energy efficiency.

Ikaros sail photographed by a tiny camera onboard. {Credit: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency}


As every sailor knows, to tack a sailboat is to sail the boat at an angle into the wind. Solar sails can do their own form of tacking by using the force of sunlight pushing out from the sun to actually move closer the sun. Spacecraft, including solar sails, travel around the sun in orbits. A spacecraft that is propelled by a rocket can shrink its orbit, and thus move closer to the sun, by thrusting the rocket in the opposite direction as the spacecraft’s motion. Similarly, if a solar sail can produce thrust in the opposite direction as the spacecraft’s motion, its orbit will also shrink. By producing thrust in the same direction as the spacecraft’s motion, the orbit will expand, and the spacecraft will move farther away from the sun. A rocket can thrust opposite its motion by pointing the rocket engine forward along the path of its motion. This produces a force from the rocket engine that is in the opposite direction as the spacecraft’s motion.

Solar sails are more complex. The force produced by sunlight on a solar sail is the addition of the forces from the incoming sunlight and the reflected sunlight. This force always points away from the sun, and is at an angle that is close to a right angle to the surface of the sail. If this force is angled back along the solar sail’s path, the spacecraft’s orbit will start to shrink, bringing it closer to the sun. If the force is angled foreward along the spacecraft’s path, the orbit will grow and the solar sail will head farther from the sun. This is the general idea behind “tacking into the sun” for solar sails. In real practice, the behavior of a solar sail is more complicated because sunlight pushes not only along the spacecraft’s orbit, but also straight out from the sun. These effects are beyond the scope of this document, however. To visualize how this works, take a look at the following images.

Travelling away from the sun:

Travelling towards the sun:

Clooney-backed satellite project to monitor volatile Sudan
by Pete Spotts / December 29, 2010

In what may be the most ambitious project of its kind, the United Nations and human rights advocates in the US are turning to satellite images and the Web to monitor the border between northern and southern Sudan, as the south prepares for a referendum on Jan. 9 that could split the country in two. The concern: If the referendum in southern Sudan supports independence for the oil-rich, largely Christian region, the country once again could dissolve into a brutal civil war. By combining on-the-ground reports with a nearly daily review of commercial-satellite images, the project’s participants say they hope to head off potential large-scale human rights abuses, should a conflict break out. “We want to let potential perpetrators of genocide and other war crimes know that we’re watching,” said actor George Clooney, a co-founder of Not on Our Watch, a human rights group funding the effort, in a statement. “It’s a lot harder to commit mass atrocities in the glare of the media spotlight.”

National intelligence services in the United States and for other major countries are widely acknowledged to have access to more-detailed images than remote-sensing companies can provide. But those images tend to remain classified and out of the public spotlight. The new effort announced Wednesday – the Satellite Sentinel Project – will post its images on a publicly available website, in hopes of mobilizing public opinion in ways that pressure governments to respond to any abuses the effort detects, participants say. The notion of using commercial-satellite images to document destruction of villages, forced migrations, and even inequities in government support for housing across ethnic or religious divides is relatively new. Five years ago, the MacArthur Foundation gave a grant to the American Association for the Advancement of Science to develop ways to help human rights groups monitor conditions in hard-to-access countries and regions. Since then, the science organization has worked on several smaller-scale projects with groups such as Amnesty International (AI), notes Lars Bromley, who spearheaded the effort for the AAAS and now heads similar efforts at the UN’s Operational Satellite Applications Program.

In 2007, the AAAS worked with AI on a project known as Eyes on Darfur, monitoring 12 villages. Over the duration of the project, he says, nine remained untouched, while the other three were affected by violence but not as badly as villages elsewhere. “Whether that was due to our project or not we can’t say,” Mr. Bromley acknowledges. “But it was a positive experience.” Indeed, gauging the effectiveness of a project like this can be difficult, acknowledges David Yanagizawa-Drott, an assistant professor of public policy at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. Dr.Yanagizawa-Drott will be evaluating the Satellite Sentinel program’s results under the aegis of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, which also is contributing satellite-analysis expertise to the effort. “To address the big question – whether or not the existence of Satellite Sentinel prevents a genocide – is going to be very hard to show,” he says. Still, there are other tests that can address the project’s effect on public awareness and perhaps on public policy, he adds. One key difference between Satellite Sentinel and past, smaller scale projects is its attempt to prepare in advance and work with nearly “real time” images. Many of the early efforts involved comparing images whose before and after views are separated by a span of several years. With the Satellite Sentinel Project, analysts will have access to fresh images every 24 to 36 hours.

Not On Our Watch is providing $750,000 to get the effort going. Web giant Google and website builder Trellon are providing the Web interface and mapping information. Bromley’s office at the UN and researchers with Harvard’s Humanitarian Initiative will be analyzing the images. Not On Our Watch and a second human rights group, the Enough Project, are serving as clearinghouses for on-the-ground information coming in from Sudan – information that will help in interpreting the images. And the two groups will spearhead efforts to bring information the project garners to public attention. “Deterrence is our objective,” says John Pendergast, co-founder of the Enough Project. “We want to contribute to the prevention of war between North and South Sudan. If war does ignite, we want to hold accountable those responsible, and hopefully deter human rights crimes that would be committed in the context of war.”

by Ariel Zirulnick / January 6, 2011

What is South Sudan’s referendum about?
Sunday’s referendum is a vote on whether to make the semiautonomous region of South Sudan fully independent from the rest of the country. After decades of war between the Arab-dominated government in the north and southern rebels, a 2005 peace deal between laid out a plan for powersharing between the north and the south and also a provision for a significant degree of southern autonomy, culminating in Sunday’s referendum on whether the South wants to officially secede. On Sunday, South Sudanese are expected to vote for their homeland to become the world’s newest country.

Why is there going to be a referendum? Why not stay unified?
Fundamentally, the desire to separate comes from deep religious and ethnic divides between the North and South of Africa’s biggest country. Northern Sudan is mostly Arab and Muslim, while South Sudan is predominantly non-Arab with a mix between Christian and animist faiths. The tensions boiled over into a brutal two-decade civil war that began in the 1980s and officially ended with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005. There is still great enmity between North and South and distrust over how oil revenues from the oil-rich south are being split.

Who votes in the referendum?
Only South Sudanese who registered during the registration period can vote in the referendum. Most South Sudanese live in the south, but some remain in northern Sudan and many live in other countries as refugees. Registration took place in the following countries: Australia, Canada, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, the UK, and the US. South Sudanese living in those countries may also vote. In the US, there are polling places open from Jan. 9-15 in Seattle, Dallas, Chicago, Nashville, and Boston.

Is this likely to end peacefully?
Journalists, politicians, and international observers were making dire predictions for the outcome of the referendum for a long time, but opinions have been increasingly optimistic lately. It seems more likely now that the south will be allowed to secede if it votes in favor of independence (an outcome that is highly likely). However, a vote also slated for Jan. 9 in oil-rich the border region of Abyei on whether it would join North or South Sudan (if South Sudan votes for independence) has been postponed. The region seemed too unstable for such a vote to happen safely and peacefully. Another point of contention is oil. The vast majority of Sudan’s oil resources are located in South Sudan. The oil revenues are supposed to be split 50-50 between the north and the south, but southern Sudanese and transparency watchdog groups have long complained the figures are not transparent and that northern officials may be taking more than its fair share. Oil export has been a boon for northern Sudan, and it is unlikely the government will cede control of South Sudan’s oil resources easily.

How long will it take to know the results?
The referendum will begin on Jan. 9 and voting will remain open until Jan. 15. A preliminary tally at the county level will happen once the polls close on Jan. 15. Those tallies will be sent to the South Sudan Referendum Commission offices in the South Sudanese capital of Juba and the Sudan’s capital, Khartoum. Final preliminary results from South Sudan, northern Sudan, and outside the country are estimated to be ready by Feb. 1. If the final results are not appealed, they are expected to be made official by Feb. 6.

How can we trust the results?
The South Sudan Referendum Commission will be tallying ballots. The SSRC is a body independent of both the South Sudanese or northern Sudanese governments.

Will Using ‘Live’ Satellite Imagery to Prevent War in the Sudan Actually Work?
by Patrick Meier / December 30, 2010

The Satellite Sentinel Project has hired private satellites to monitor troop movements around the oil-rich region of Abyei during the upcoming Sudanese referendum and prevent war. The images and analysis will be made public on the Project’s website. George Clooney, who catalyzed this joint initiative between Google, UNOSAT, the Enough Project, Trellon and my colleagues at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI), calls this the anti-genocide paparazzi: “We want them to enjoy the level of celebrity attention that I usually get. If you know your actions are going to be covered, you tend to behave much differently than when you operate in a vacuum.”

The group hopes that they can deter war crimes by observing troop buildups and troop movements in advance. If successful, the project would accomplish an idea first proposed more than half-a-century ago  by US President Dwight Eisenhower during a US-Soviet Summit in Paris at the height of the Cold War. Eisenhower announced his plan to “submit to the United Nations a proposal for the creation of a United Nations aerial surveillance to detect preparations for attack.” Interestingly, Eisenhower had crafted this idea five years earlier as part of his Open Skies Proposal, which actually became a treaty in 2002: “The Treaty establishes a regime of unarmed aerial observation flights over the entire territory of its participants. The Treaty is designed to enhance mutual understanding and confidence by giving all participants, regardless of size, a direct role in gathering information about military forces and activities of concern to them. Open Skies is one of the most wide-ranging international efforts to date to promote openness and transparency of military forces and activities.” If you want to find out more about Eisenhower’s efforts, please see my blog post on the subject here.

So there is some precedence for what Clooney is trying to pull off. But how is the Sentinel project likely to fare as a non-state effort? Looking at other non-state actors who have already operationalized Eisenhower’s ideas may provide some insights. Take Amnesty International’s “Eyes on Darfur” initiative, which “leverages the power of high- resolution satellite imagery to provide unim- peachable evidence of the atrocities being committed in Darfur–enabling action by private citizens, policy makers and international courts.”

According to Amnesty, the project “broke new ground in protecting human rights by allowing people around the world to literally ‘watch over’ and protect twelve intact, but highly vulnerable, villages using commercially available satellite imagery.” The imagery also enabled Amnesty to capture the movement of Janjaweed forces. Amnesty claims that their project has had a deterrence effect. Apparently, the villages monitored by the project have not been attacked while neighboring ones have. That said, at least two of the monitored villages were removed from the site after reported attacks.

Still Amnesty argues that there have been notable changes in decisions made by the Bashir government since “Eyes on Darfur” went live. They also note that the government of Chad cited their as one of the reasons they accepted UN peacekeepers along their border. In my blog post on Eisenhower’s UN surveillance speech I asked whether the UN would ever be allowed to monitor and detect preparations for attack using satellite imagery. I now have my answer given that UNOSAT is involved in the Sentinel Project which plans to “deter the resumption of war between North and South Sudan” by providing an “early warning system to deter mass atrocities by focusing world attention and generating rapid responses on human rights and human security concerns” (Sentinel). But will these efforts really create an effective deterrence-based “Global Panopticon”? French philosopher Michel Foucault has famously written on the role of surveillance as an instrument of power. “He cites the example of Jeremy Bentham’s ‘Panopticon,’ an architectural model for a prison enabling a single guard, located in a central tower, to watch all of the inmates in their cells.  The ‘major effect of the Panopticon,’ writes Foucault, is ‘to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power.’”

According to Foucault, the Panopticon renders power both “visible and unverifiable”: Visible: the inmate will constantly have before his eyes the tall outline of the central tower from which he is being spied upon. Unverifiable: the inmate must never know whether he is being looked at at any one moment; but he must be sure that he may always be so. But potential perpetrators of the violence in the Sudan do not actually see the  outline of the satellites flying overhead. They are not being directly harassed by high-powered “cameras” stuck into their faces by the anti-genocide paparazzi. So the power is not directly visible in the traditional sense. But who exactly is the inmate in or connected to Abyei in the first place? There are multiple groups in the area with different agendas that don’t necessarily tie back to the Sudanese government in Khartoum. The Arab Misseriya tribe has thus far remained north during this dry season to avert confrontation with the Ngok Dinka in the Southern part of Abyei. These nomadic tribes typically carry Kalashnikovs to guard their cattle. So distinguishing these nomads from armed groups prepared to raid and burn down villages is a challenge especially when dealing with satellite imagery. Using UAV’s may be more useful and cheaper. (Note that monitoring the location and movement of cattle could be insightful because cattle issues are political in the area).

If armed groups who intend to burn down villages are the intended inmates, do they even know or care about the Satellite Sentinel Project? The ICC has already struggled to connect the chain of command back to the Sudanese government. Besides, the expected turn-around time to develop the satellite imagery is between eight to twenty-four hours. Getting armed men on a truck and raiding a village or two doesn’t take more than a few hours. So the crimes may already have been committed by the time the pictures come in. And if more heavy military machinery like tanks are rolled in, well, one doesn’t need satellite imagery to detect those. As scholars of the panopticon have noted, the successful use of surveillance has to be coupled with the threat of punishment for deviant acts. So putting aside the issue of who the intended inmates are, the question for the Sentinel Project is whether threats of punishment are perceived by inmates as sufficiently real enough for the deterrence to work. In international relations theory, “deterrence is a strategy by which governments threaten an immense retaliation if attacked, such that aggressors are deterred if they do not wish to suffer great damage as a result of an aggressive action.”

This means that official state actors need to step up and publicly pledge to carry out the necessary punishment if the satellite imagery collected by Sentinel provides evidence of wrong-doing. The ICC should make it crystal clear to all inmates (whoever they are) that evidence from the satellite imagery will be used for prosecution (and that they should care). There also need to be armed guards in  “the tower” who are proximate enough to be deployed and have the political will to use force if necessary. Or will the anti-genocide paparazzi’s many eyes be sufficient to keep the peace? It’s worth remembering that the Hollywood paparazzi haven’t exactly turned movie stars into alter boys or girls. But then again, they’d probably get away with a whole lot more without the paparazzi.

US spy satellites have no doubt monitored conflict-prone areas in the past but this  hasn’t necessarily deterred major crimes against humanity as far as I know. Of course, the imagery collected has remained classified, which means the general public hasn’t been able to lobby their governments and the international community to act based on this information and shared awareness. The Sentinel Project’s open source approach changes this calculus. It may not deter the actual perpetrators, but the shared awareness created thanks to the open data will make it more difficult for those who can prevent the violence to look the other way. So the Satellite Sentinel Project may be more about keeping our own governments accountable to the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) than deterring actors in the Sudan from committing further crimes. How will we know if Clooney succeeds? I’m not quite sure. But I do know that the Sentinel Project is a step in the right direction. More evidence is always more compelling than less evidence. And more public evidence is even better. I have no doubt therefore that Eisenhower would back this Open Skies project.

Omar al-Bashir visits south Sudan ahead of independence vote
by Xan Rice / 4 January 2011

In his last visit to southern Sudan before Sunday’s independence referendum, President Omar al-Bashir promised voters that he would “congratulate and celebrate with you” should they choose secession. Amid intense security, Bashir was warmly welcomed today in the southern capital, Juba, by its president, Salva Kiir. The Khartoum leader donned a traditional blue robe over his suit as a mark of respect. His convoy left the airport, passing hundreds of people holding southern Sudan flags and waving placards featuring an outline of an open hand – the symbol that will signify separation on the ballot paper. The message was surprisingly polite – Bashir is despised by many here – but it was also clear: “Bye bye”. At Kiir’s presidential palace, Bashir made one final plea to southern voters to choose unity, but appeared resigned to an alternative outcome, which he pledged to respect. “Imposing unity by force doesn’t work,” he said. “We want unity between the north and the south but this doesn’t mean opposing the desire of the southern citizen.”

An overwhelming vote for secession is a near-certainty, splitting Africa’s largest country in two to create the world’s newest state. The referendum is the culmination of the comprehensive peace agreement (CPA), signed in 2005 between Bashir and John Garang, the late leader of the rebel Southern People’s Liberation Army, which ended 22 years of war. Given that conflict, along with earlier wars and decades of marginalisation by the Arab government in Khartoum, there was always little chance that the south would choose unity after the six-year interim period. During that time the region has governed itself, and any lingering doubts about choosing independence that may have existed have disappeared. “We are gone,” said Nhial Bol, editor of the Citizen newspaper, in Juba. “Once a dog is let out for a night in the market it will not return home.” But there have always been questions over whether Bashir would allow southern Sudan to depart peacefully, especially given that the south holds about three-quarters of the country’s oil reserves. Since the CPA his government has obstructed or delayed implementation of key parts of the agreement.

While for many months Juba residents have been counting down the days, hours and minutes to the vote with the help of a huge clock in the centre of the city’s main roundabout, excitement has been tempered with real fears that the referendum would be delayed, raising the threat of violence. But the poll is now destined to go-ahead as scheduled, with voting materials delivered to all the southern states. Justice Chan Reec Madut, deputy chairman of the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission, declared yesterday that the body was “100% prepared for the great day”, while the information minister, Barnaba Marial Benjamin, said there was little chance of trouble. “If you’re in Ivory Coast, run away. If you work for WikiLeaks, run way. But if you are here, there is no need to run,” he told reporters.

Southerners’ confidence in the process has been boosted by Bashir’s recent statements when, for the first time, he started publicly acknowledging Sudan might split. He has even pledged to support the new country. In Juba today Bashir reiterated that vow, offering “anything you need” from Khartoum. “We will come and congratulate and celebrate with you … we will not hold a mourning tent,” he said. “We will be happy to achieve the real peace and final peace for all citizens in the north and the south.” While meeting ministers from the southern government, Bashir discussed the problems in Abyei, a border area whose separate referendum this Sunday was postponed owing to disagreements over voter eligibility. He also asked the ministers not to provide any support for rebel groups in the western Darfur region, which remains volatile. With Juba in a state of lockdown – southern officials were terrified that something might happen to Bashir, threatening the vote. But the president departed in the early afternoon for Khartoum, where he faces a tricky future. Already under pressure owing to his arrest warrant from international criminal court over alleged war crimes in Darfur, he is also blamed by many in the north for the imminent breakup of Sudan. His political foes aim to take advantage, with Bashir’s former mentor and ally, Hassan al-Turabi, saying yesterday that opposition groups were working on peaceful strategies “to overthrow the regime right after the results of the referendum are announced”.

Independence day
Registrars have recorded 3,930,816 southern Sudanese eligible to partake in the referendum, 51% of them women. Voting centres will also be open to southern Sudanese in the north of Sudan, and in eight other countries, including the UK, the US, Canada and Australia. Voting will take place over seven days, starting on Sunday, and will be observed by monitors from numerous states and regions, including the US, the EU and China. Official results are expected within 30 days of polls closing. For the verdict to be legitimate, 60% of registered voters must have cast their ballots. If not, the referendum will have to be rerun within 60 days of the results announcement. A separate ballot over the future of Abyei, an oil-producing region on the north border, was also supposed to have taken place this weekend, with residents choosing whether to join the north or the south. But the Khartoum government’s insistence that Arab nomads from the Misseriya tribe be allowed to vote has caused it to be postponed.

DIY Kit Puts Satellites Into Orbit for $8,000
by Irene Klotz / Jul 28, 2010

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.

From the left: IOS founders Roderick and Randa Milliron; (center) Eric Gullichsen, who is both an Interorbital investor and the Science and Technology Advisor to the Kingdom ; (right) a member of the Tongan nobility and his aide.

Randa & Roderick Milliron
email : ios [at] interorbital [dot] com

TubeSat Personal Satellite Kit

“Planet Earth has entered the age of the Personal Satellite with the introduction of Interorbital’s TubeSat Personal Satellite (PS) Kit. The new IOS TubeSat PS Kit is the low-cost alternative to the CubeSat. It has three-quarters of the mass (0.75-kg) and volume of a CubeSat, but still offers plenty of room for most experiments or functions. And, best of all, the price of the TubeSat kit actually includes the price of a launch into Low-Earth-Orbit on an IOS Neptune 30 launch vehicle. Since the TubeSats are placed into self-decaying orbits 310 kilometers (192 miles) above the Earth’s surface, they do not contribute to any long-term build-up of orbital debris. After a few weeks of operation, they will safely re-enter the atmosphere and burn-up. TubeSats are designed to be orbit-friendly. Launches are expected to begin in the fourth quarter of 2010. Total Price of the TubeSat Kit including a Launch to Orbit is $8,000!

A TubeSat is designed to function as a Basic Satellite Bus or as a simple stand-alone satellite. Each TubeSat kit includes the satellite’s structural components, safety hardware, solar panels, batteries, power management hardware and software, transceiver, antennas, microcomputer, and the required programming tools. With these components alone, the builder can construct a satellite that puts out enough power to be picked up on the ground by a hand-held HAM radio receiver. Simple applications include broadcasting a repeating message from orbit or programming the satellite to function as a private orbital HAM radio relay station. These are just two examples. The TubeSat also allows the builder to add his or her own experiment or function to the basic TubeSat kit. Examples of add-on experiments or functions include the following:
– Earth-from-space video imaging
– Earth magnetic field measurement
– Satellite orientation detection (horizon sensor, gyros, accelerometers, etc.)
– Orbital environment measurements (temperature, pressure, radiation, etc.)
– On-orbit hardware and software component testing (microprocessors, etc.)
– Tracking migratory animals from orbit
– Testing satellite stabilization methods
– Biological experiments
– On-orbit advertising
– Private e-mail

As long as the experiment or function satisfies the volume and mass restrictions, it can be integrated into the TubeSat. These restrictions provide a unique intellectual challenge for the experiment or function designer. TubeSats are also available as Double TubeSats, Triple TubeSats, or Quadruple TubeSats. The length, volume, and mass of these expanded TubeSats are based on the multiplying factor.

A TubeSat Personal Satellite development program includes the following steps:
– Purchasing a TubeSat kit
– Building and testing the basic components
– Adding an experiment or function
– Carrying out a full-up system test
– Sending the completed TubeSat to Interorbital Systems for integration into the Neptune 30

32 TubeSats can be integrated into and launched by a single Neptune 30 launch vehicle. Prior to launch, each TubeSat is inserted into one of the rocket’s 32 Satellite Ejection Cylinders. They never come into contact with the other TubeSats. Once on-orbit, the satellites are released according to a pre-programmed timing sequence. The timing sequence is designed to prevent satellite clustering. Interorbital expects to launch a set of 32 TubeSats per month. The Neptune 30 TubeSat launches will take place at the IOS Spaceport Tonga, located on the southern tip of the island of ‘Eua in the South Pacific Kingdom of Tonga.

Payment Options
Full-Payment Option: If the buyer pays the full cost of the TubeSat kit upfront, he or she is immediately placed on a launch manifest according to the order in which the payment was received.

Half-Upfront-Half-Payment Option: TubeSat buyers also have the option of paying half of the cost upfront, then paying the other half of the cost at a later date or when the TubeSat is completed and ready for integration into the launch vehicle. With this option, the builder will be placed on a launch manifest according to the time when full payment is received. All orders will be shipped within 30 days.

Cubesats: Tiny Spacecraft, Huge Payoffs
by Leonard David / 08 September, 2004

Experts say the big news in spacecraft building involves ultra-small CubeSats. These petite but powerful satellites are spearheading a hands-on revolution around the world. And what fist-sized CubeSats bring to space could mimic innovations sparked by the personal computer here on Earth. To look at them, you don’t see much …and that’s a good thing. No massive, expensive spacecraft that has been years in the making and loaded to its sprawling solar panels with super-electronics and other posh payload parts. A standard CubeSat is a motherboard of invention: About a 4-inch (10-centimeter) block of equipment that tips the scale at roughly 2 pounds (1 kilogram). A handful are already in space and with other launches planned for later this year. Peep inside a CubeSat and you’ll spot off-the-shelf circuitry in the familiar form of microprocessors and modem ports, and other microchip devices typically used in cell phones, digital cameras and hand-held Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite navigation units. CubeSats will make be easier and more cost effective to deploy into orbit.

Global congregation
The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and Utah State University showcased the pint-sized payloads at the 18th annual Conference on Small Satellites, held here last month. The CubeSat initiative is a global congregation of universities and private firms striving to advance small satellite technology. Of the participating universities, more than 60 percent of CubeSat developers reside in the United States. In June 2003, six CubeSats were lobbed into orbit from Russia’s Plesetsk launch site, executed by Eurockot Launch Services GmbH of Bremen, Germany. Later this year, if all stays on track, over a dozen universities from around the world will take part in hurling their CubeSats into space via a Dnper rocket. This launcher — an SS-18 missile sans warhead — has been rehabilitated into a “ride for hire” booster offered by ISC Kosmotras. “When we started this, I thought that it made sense for everybody to collaborate,” said Robert Twiggs, professor and consultant at Stanford University’s Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics and a pioneer in the rapidly growing world of small satellites. “I’m very pleased that it’s going the way it is.” Twiggs’ main interest is in the development, launch and operation of small, econo-class orbiters to do feasibility demonstrations and to space-qualify new and novel components. He is also spearheading the miniaturization of space experiments for low-cost satellite missions.

Good things are coming
A CubeSat can be built for under $25,000, although they typically come in at the $30,000 to $40,000 price range – still a bargain. The “going-rate” per CubeSat launch is in the $40,000 range. There’s already a CubeSat Kit being offered that gives a builder a leg up on turning a space mission into reality – and meeting a launch date “on time and under budget,” says one product brochure. Regarding what services CubeSats can perform, Twiggs said that he doesn’t have the foggiest idea of what the “killer application” of the little satellites will prove to be. However, as for their utility, he’s quick to respond. “The utility to me is to educate the students. The electronics are starting to get better…the efficiency of solar cells is going up…and in a couple of years they’re going to be very capable little satellites. I think some good things are coming,” Twiggs told

Commercial off-the-shelf
CubeSats aren’t built with special parts in huge NASA facilities. “We use everything we can get,” Twiggs said. “If you’ve got lots of room to put everything in, you end up not being too careful with it. That’s the challenge. You’ve got to really think hard when you’re putting together a CubeSat.” The key to building small is taking the “COTS” approach — buying Commercial Off-The-Shelf. “I think that’s really the way to go,” Twiggs advised. For a few tens of dollars you can acquire capability that the “big guys” obtain at mega-dollar prices. Because the industry is new, “we don’t know how it has been done so we’re less constrained by the established way to solving the problem,” said Michael Swartwout, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the School of Engineering and Applied Science at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. “We can now finally play to our strengths…our enthusiasm.”

Freedom to fail
Universities have an inherent advantage in developing “disruptive” space systems, Swartwout contends, and that is the freedom to fail. In fact, he added, three of the six CubeSats placed in orbit in 2003 were either never contacted or failed very early. “Experimental failure is a basic element of university life, and from the university’s perspective, a failed spacecraft is not necessarily a failed mission,” Swartwout said. Swartwout explained that the tremendous reductions in the size and cost of electronics are making possible “disposable” probes that function for only weeks, but whose very low cost and short development cycle make their launch and operation affordable. “Universities are uniquely poised to take advantage of disposable spacecraft, and such spacecraft could be used to develop ‘disruptive’ satellite technologies,” he said. California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) in San Luis Obispo is a powerhouse in the CubeSat effort, led by Cal Poly Aerospace Engineering Professor Jordi Puig-Suari. In April, Cal Poly hosted the first-ever CubeSat Developers’ Workshop. That event brought together teams in the United States and abroad to network and collectively shoulder ways to reduce CubeSat costs and development time, and review how best to increase their access to space and turn up the volume in terms of launch rate. In addition to overseas launches, CubeSat builders are looking to develop the capability of boosting their satellites within the United States. A campaign is in progress with all major launch providers to assess possibilities for the future.

Learn by building
Cal Poly is also home for the CubeSat deployer, the P-POD. All universities involved in the CubeSat program send their spacecraft to San Luis Obispo where Cal Poly students integrate each into the P-POD and carry out testing before transporting them to the launch site. Things are extremely busy at Cal Poly, said Spencer Studley, PolySat Project Manager and student. The launch slated for later this year will include 14 CubeSats, he said, developed by seven teams in the United States and four groups at international universities. The CubeSats will be stuffed within five P-PODs, each carrier device cocked and spring-loaded to deploy sets of the tiny spacecraft. “People are learning as they are building,” Studley said. “Between 40 to 50 universities are actually in the process of building CubeSats.” Studley said that universities are undertaking CubeSat work for multiple reasons: For their educational value by enhancing student engineering skills, to carrying out science data gathering or supporting a commercial space agenda. According to Bryan Klofas, Cal Poly student and coordinator for the university’s Earth station: “There are a lot of universities involved…and lots of far out ideas. You don’t need a lot of money to put a satellite in orbit. Smaller is better.” Twiggs at Stanford University foresees a burgeoning role for CubeSats. Micro-thrusters could enable the spacecraft to maneuver freely in Earth orbit. New radio and solar cell technology is within reach, also making future CubeSats all the more productive. “And look at the processors. Every time they come out we get more computing power for less power consumption,” Twiggs said. The same goes with the PDA, he said, the handheld personal digital assistant. “They are our saving grace. They didn’t know it but they’re building stuff for us,” Twiggs added.

Like the personal computer?
Big plans are afoot for CubeSats. There is talk about flying tethers on the spacecraft, as well as toting along inflatable packages – both techniques viewed as a way to hasten a CubeSat’s reentry and lessen worry about adding to already orbiting space clutter. CubeSat innovators also envision the small spacecraft deployed from the International Space Station – chucked out of an airlock. Then there is the prospect of CubeSats toting biological or hardware experiments that reenter and parachute to Earth. “I hope the CubeSat is like the personal computer…you don’t know what the heck you’re going to do with this little box when you build it or what markets will be enabled. But it’s so cool, you’ve got to do it,” Twiggs concluded.

Tiny, DIY Satellites Get NASA Boost
by Alexis Madrigal / May 19, 2009

We’ve known that the DIY ethic is good for modding your Roomba or building a beer bong, but groups of college students have taken the movement to the next level: space. Working on shoestring budgets and short timelines, duct tape and tape measures, CubeSat enthusiasts build 4-inch square satellites and then piggyback their dreams on bigger missions’ rockets. They do it dirty and cheap, but their results are competitive with their spendier counterparts. The CubeSat strategy was pioneered at Stanford University in the Space and Systems Development Laboratory, now headed by Andrew Kalman, a consulting professor. In this Wired Science video, Kalman explains how CubeSats came to be, how they’re built, and why they’re important.

What was just a concept 10 years ago is now a thriving way of accessing space at very low cost. Now, even NASA is giving the idea the thumbs up. Tuesday, a new nanosatellite will take a ride into orbit on a Minotaur 1 rocket. The entire satellite is just 4 inches tall and 12 inches long, like three standard CubeSats stuck together. PharmaSat, as the NASA Ames project is known, will carry a small payload of yeast, which it will feed with nutrient liquid — and then attempt to kill — over the course of 100 hours. The project is supposed to test the effectiveness of antifungals in killing microbes in space. It turns out that low-gravity conditions can do strange things to earthling cells, including making them more virulent. If we’re going to send humans, with their huge complements of bacterial ecosystems into space, we need to know how microbes react to the low-gravity environment.

While the PharmaSat project adopts some of the CubeSat methods, keep in mind that it still helps to have NASA behind you. The agency spent $3 million on PharmaSat, mostly bringing the rigor of the CubeSat up to NASA standards. “I don’t think we’re using exotic or one of-a-kind products,” said Bruce Yost, PharmaSat mission manager at NASA Ames. “It’s how it’s put together.” PharmaSat grew out of an earlier proof-of-concept CubeSat project called GeneSat, which proved that engineers could send up a tiny satellite that would effectively nourish microbes and carry out detailed analysis of biological changes. “PharmaSat is kind of a version 2.0 of GeneSat,” Yost said. “It’s quite a bit lot more complicated. It will handle more valves and fluids and microwells. I tell people sometimes that it’s GeneSat on steroids.” Even though the experiment will only take 100 hours or so, the limited bandwidth available to the satellite — which maxes out at 9600 baud — means that the PharmaSat will be beaming data down for months after the yeast die.


“Have you ever dreamed of launching something into space? If so, a satellite engineer claims it’s more of a possibility than you might think. According to Make, Song Hojun created an affordable do-it-yourself satellite system and wrote a book, available on Google Books for free, that tells other amateur space enthusiasts how to do the same thing. We won’t bore you with the nuts-and-bolts of the cube-shaped satellite. But what we do find most interesting is how you communicate with it once it’s in orbit. Hojun programmed an iPod to sync with a portable radio and a homemade antenna. So while your friends are using their iPods to listen to Lady GaGa, you could be using yours to follow a hunk of metal orbiting the Earth.”




Cheaper, Better Satellites Made From Cellphones and Toy Parts
by Jess McNally / July 30, 2010

Instead of investing in their own computer research and development, engineers at the NASA Ames Research Center are looking to cellphones and off-the-shelf toys to power the future of low-cost satellite technology. The smartphone in your pocket has about 120 times more computing power than the average satellite, which has the equivalent of a 1984-era computer inside. “You can go to Walmart and buy toys that work better than satellites did 20 years ago,” said NASA physicist Chris Boshuizen. “And your cellphone is really a $500 robot in your pocket that can’t get around. A lot of the real innovation now happens in entertainment and cellphone technology, and NASA should be going forward with their stuff.”

The biggest challenge of sending cellphones and toys into space is whether the parts can get up there without shaking apart and work in a vacuum at extreme high and low temperatures. To do some preliminary testing, two Nexus One cellphones caught rides on two rockets on July 24 that launched 30,000 feet into the atmosphere at a maximum speed of mach 2.4 (about 1,800 miles per hour). One of the rockets crashed into the ground after its parachute failed, but the other made it back with the cellphone unscathed. Both cellphones were able to record the acceleration of the rocket using their built-in accelerometers, and the undamaged phone captured 2.5 hours of video of the event through a hole in the side of the rocket.

“Everything that didn’t break is a piece of data,” said volunteer engineer Ben Howard. “We know that the batteries didn’t break and that the computer worked the whole time.” If the cellphones ultimately get used to power satellites, they will probably be sent up without a screen and with a different battery to make them lighter. The screen and battery make up 90 percent of the Nexus One’s weight. Next, the team will build a stabilizing mechanism for the satellite using the cellphone, $100 toy gyroscopes and parts similar to those of the Mindstorms Lego, so the satellite can orient itself in space. By installing three spinning gyroscopes and getting them to spin at different velocities, a satellite can move in any direction. The same technique is currently used on many satellites, but requires multimillion dollar technology.

The project will likely use CubeSat’s as a standardized carrying case for their cellphone-powered satellites, because the boxes have already been tested and are known to hold up in the journey. Often companies who are sending up satellites on rockets have extra space on their rockets, which is how most amateur satellites will likely get into space, and the people paying like to be sure that nothing will break and damage the rocket on the way up. The whole goal of the project is to make satellites cheap and affordable, so that anyone with bit of time and a couple of thousand dollars can send their own satellite into space. Upgrading the computing power of satellites using cellphones would mean increased satellite capabilities, possibly including artificial intelligence. “We’re not sure yet exactly what people will want to do with their satellites, and that’s the point,” said NASA education specialist Matt Reyes. “What can you imagine doing with your phone in space?”

Retrieving the Nexus One cell phone from the rocket post-launch


Community Wi-Fi network even uses satellite dishes
BY Fernando Cassia / 10 October 2007

Among the most popular attractions of this year’s CAFECONF Linux conference down in Argentina, the “Buenos Aires Libre” group, is promoting its hobbyist, city-wide “community network”. While other groups here were handing out leaflets or showing software on a PC screen – or in the case of La Intella, a dual-core notebook – the folks from Buenos Aires Libre caught everyone’s attention because they had hacked open hardware on display, including open boxes, cables, and a Linksys WRT54G housed in a waterproof case with a large omni antenna. I used the opportunity to have a chat with Martin Seeber who was there promoting the effort and who runs one of the main nodes. I also had a little chat with some of his peers and needless to say I learned a lot.

Unlike other Wi-Fi “projects” and “communities” like the (in)famous FON which mixes business objectives with grassroots participation, this one isn’t about providing hotspots for public internet use, and it isn’t commercial at all. B.A. Libre – BAL hereinafter – aims to run a network with its own backbone, capable of routing traffic between nodes even if the Internet goes down, it doesn’t rely on the public internet for transportation. The project was kick-started by a handful users a long six years ago and after several iterations and change of structure and leadership, now seems to show steady progress.

The BAL network spine uses point-to-point links and directional antennas along with inexpensive consumer Wi-Fi APs or in some instances full PCs in waterproof enclosures- loaded with their own customized Linux software, dubbed Obelisco – Spanish for ‘obelisk’ the city’s landmark.

Three years ago, at the time the local local loop monopoly covering the northern half of this country decided to charge for DSL traffic above a certain quota – a decision it later dropped – the company suddenly found itself uncomfortably in the public spotlight, and facing the heat of the angry users and ISPs who demanded local loop unbundling. One exec at the behemoth telco lost his composure and reportedly exclaimed at a congress hearing on the subject: “If you want traffic to be free on the network, then build your own”. Well, ironically, that’s precisely what these folks have been doing: building their own backbone.

Interesting facts
For their backbone, they choose to use an “extended star” or tree topology, avoiding the use of Mesh technology because of performance problems, as the number of hops increases. This BAL network backbone currently uses 802.11b/g equipment on the 2.4GHz band. It also doesn’t use WEP, WPA, or any other encryption, just MAC address filtering, so if you want to connect to a given node you must first register on the BAL system as a project member, and then ask the target node for permission so he can add your equipments’ MAC address to the nodes’ white list. Users concerned about the safety of their data are encouraged to run OpenVPN to create tunnels in such instance. Some nodes, not all, also sport an omni-directional secondary antenna so that nearby clients all around can connect as well.

I asked them if they had any run-ins with the airwaves watchdog and their response was an emphatic no. There’s a regulation making selling VOIP or telephony services using Wi-Fi equipment strictly and specifically forbidden by the airwaves watchdog, but it’s aimed at ISPs. First BAL is a non-profit endeavour, a community network, and it doesn’t aim to provide any specific services, just inter-connect computers. Thus the local regulating authority gives them no hassle at all because such non-profit usage falls within the ‘private use’ considerations of the local regulations.

On the software/organisation aspect, they have done a quite impressive job. The Wiki shows a lot of work, and there’s even an on-line map built using Google Maps satellite images and showcasing all nodes and clients, and which are currently active. The registration/membership system is also well done. Dubbed the “BA Libre Location System” or BALLS for short, the project’s web map lists 259 “points of interest”, that is, either nodes or users who have decided to take part in this project in the whole capital city and its metro area of influence, with 13 on-line nodes and APs in BA city at the time of this writing. There is also a Wiki, an IRC channel and mailing lists.

Annoying landlord? Hack a satellite dish!
When I saw the pictures and the kind of relatively huge equipment some had installed – think a mid tower to mini-tower waterproof metal box hooked to a building’s TV antenna tower- or huge directional parabolic grid antennas, one question kept circling my mind: “What if the landlord of building’s superintendent doesn’t allow me to install such a large antenna?”. I asked the guy next to me in the BAL booth. He thought for a second and replied with a smile: “Well, as far as testing goes… you can always mod a satellite dish, and replace the LNB with a biquad. very few people, if any, will notice”.

He told me one of the nodes even installed one. And yes indeed, there’s even a picture of such a mod on their Wiki, and although I wouldn’t call it unnoticeable, it proves that nothing can stop this pack of motivated geeks from reaching their common goal.



free book about designing, implementing, and maintaining low-cost wireless networks


“Slow scan televison is a way of sending video over a voice bandwidth channel–this can make it practical to send video over thousands of miles via ionospheric propagation. Modern computers have this once rare and expensive mode readily available to the average ham.”


The best way to understand slow scan TV is to imagine it as colour fax pictures but sent over the radio rather than the phone. The pictures are transmitted via tones (1200-2300 HRZ) over the air. There are several simple ways to get setup for slow scan TV, the simplest of which use your computer and software with a hardware interface. There are interface circuits which work excellent and cost less than $20 to build or nil if from your junk box.

My experience with slow scan has been great fun. I’ve exchanged picture QSLs with different people in many different countries throughout the world. The quality of the pictures is somewhat dependent upon the computer, (monitor & graphics card), and somewhat on the software, hardware. The better systems support Hicolour which gives typical picture resolutions of 320 x 240 in 32 thousand colours. These pictures are almost photographic quality and are very impressive to say the least. Once you’ve tried it your hooked. Imagine being able to swap mug shots with other Amateurs. See who you’re talking to. Send diagrams and schematics over the air. It’s great. Listen to HF on 14.230 and 14.233 almost anytime to hear the action.

“If your interested at all, take the time to build up the simply 741 op-amp circuit described in the JVFAX info and run the JVFAX70 software available right here (above, 736K). This system works great and is simple to setup and use. The interface circuit is made up of only a 741 op-amp, couple caps, and a couple resistors. The interface circuit plugs into a serial port (com port) of any IBM compatible type computer, 386 or up recommended. One connection from the interface to the speaker output and your copying pictures. See articles for details on connections for transmit and more info on the different systems being used. There’s even software available to copy and send SSTV using your sound card.”

Rob Aarssen
email: raarssen [at] kent [dot] net



Experience Behind the Iron Curtan
“Before the downfall of the Soviet Union, there were a number of pirate TV operations scattered around Eastern Europe. Many were guerrilla style hit-and-run operations that would rig up a low-tech transmitter with a junked VCR, set to go on the air during the official government newscast, overriding the signal for several blocks. When the authorities found the transmitter, often on the roof of an apartment house or in an vacant building, they would find home-built equipment that had been abandoned, rigged to a timer switch. Much of the programming was very short (since the authorities would be searching for the source within minutes) and usually consisted of recordings from foreign broadcasters like Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, with still photos for visuals. One brave pirate in Moscow would show a tape of the official government news broadcast, with someone else’s voice dubbed onto the soundtrack, reading uncensored news peppered with dirty jokes.

In 1985, some very brave astronomers from Poland’s University of Torun used home-made equipment to superimpose pro-Solidarity slogans over the images of the state-run TV network. [1] You can imagine how the viewing public (as well as the authorities) must have felt when, during the official government news broadcast, the words “SOLIDARITY TORUN: ENOUGH OF PRICE HIKES, LIES AND REPRESSION” flashed on the screen.

In 1977, back when the UK used analogue television, someone identified as “Vrillion” of the “Ashtar Galactic Command” over-rode the audio channel of England’s Southern Television for 6 minutes.”

Free-To-Air Satellite TV
In many rural parts of the USA, a big thing is “Free-To-Air” (FTA) TV dishes. These are common in the UK and parts of Europe, but are only starting to pick up in the USA. You’ll need an unobstructed view of the Southern sky, room for a dish (with a directional motor so you can watch more than one satellite) and a receiver box. A decent set-up will set you back about $200-300 plus installation, but there’s no monthly fees. You won’t get Dish Network or DishTV (and if you do without subscribing, they’ll sue you for Theft of Services), but there’s lots of TV and radio channels to be had, as well as network TV station feeds. Depending on where you are, you can also watch foreign broadcasts. The forum at DSSRookie is a good place to start, as well as the FTA forum at (No hacking questions permitted!). You can also check out the website for White Springs TV, an FTA service.

WARNING: There have been reports of crooked dealers selling counterfeit versions of the popular Pansat brand receiver boxes. Make sure you by from a recommended dealer.

A “peoples network” consisting of a Free-To-Air satellite channel feeding low-power stations and FTA dishes may be pricey, but can be done. There are a number of religious and ethnic services, as well as a few “family entertainment” services, already on satellite. There are also a number of FTA services that are run by expatriate citizens of other countries, such as “Tapesh TV” and “Simay Azadi” which are based in the USA but serve viewers in Iran, often broadcasting news and information that may be censored by the viewer’s government. To contradict Gil Scott-Heron; The revolution might very well be televised, but it probably won’t be on cable.

Original Guerrilla Television
There are a number of outlaw radio projects going on around the country. Less frequent, but just as feasible, is a people’s television network. Presently there are three basic types of TV systems: Broadcast, which is the sending of signals directly from a station’s transmitter to home receiver sets; Cable, where the cable company employees extremely sensitive antenna to pick up broadcast transmissions and relay them and/or they originate and send them; and thirdly, Closed Circuit TV, such as the surveillance cameras in supermarkets, banks and apartment house lobbies.

The third system as used by the police is of little concern, unless we are interested in not being photographed. The cameras can be temporarily knocked out of commission by flashing a bright light (flashbulb, cigarette lighter, etc.) directly in front of its lens. For our own purposes, closed-circuit TV can be employed for broadcasting rallies, rock concerts or teach-ins to other locations. The equipment is not that expensive to rent and easy to operate. Just contact the largest television or electronics store in your area and ask about it. There are also closed-circuit and cable systems that work in harmony to broadcast special shows to campuses and other institutions. Many new systems are being developed and will be in operation soon.

Cable systems as such are in use only in a relatively few areas. They can be tapped either at the source or at any point along the cable by an engineer freak who knows what to do. The source is the best spot, since all the amplification and distribution equipment of the system is available at that point. Tapping along the cable itself can be a lot hairier, but more frustrating for the company when they try to trace you down.

Standard broadcasting that is received on almost all living room sets works on an RF (radio frequency) signal sent out on various frequencies which correspond to the channels on the tuner. In no area of the country are all these channels used. This raises important political questions as to why people do not have the right to broadcast on unused channels. By getting hold of a TV camera (Sony and Panasonic are the best for the price) that has an RF output, you can send pictures to a TV set simply by placing the camera cable on or near the antenna of the receiver set. When the set is operating on the same channel as the camera, it will show what the camera sees. Used video tape recorders such as the Sony CV series that record and play back audio and video information are becoming more available. These too can be easily adapted to send RF signals the same as a live camera.

Whether or not the program to be broadcasted is live or on tape, there are three steps to be taken in order to establish a people’s TV network. First, you must convert the video and audio signals to an RF frequency modulated (FM) signal corresponding to the desired broadcast channel. We suggest for political and technical reasons that you pick one of the unused channels in your area to begin experimenting. The commercial stations have an extremely powerful signal and can usually override your small output. Given time and experience you might want to go into direct competition with the big boys on their own channel. It is entirely possible, say in a 10 to 20 block radius, to interrupt a presidential press-conference with more important news. Electronic companies, such as Jerrold Electronics Corp., 4th and Walnut Sts., Philadelphia, Pa., make equipment that can RF both video and audio information onto specific channels. The device you’d be interested in is called a cable driver or RF modulator.

When the signal is in the RF state, it is already possible to broadcast very short distances. The second step is to amplify the signal so it will reach as far as possible. A linear amplifier of the proper frequency is required for this job. The stronger the amplifier the farther and more powerful the signal. A 10-watt job will cover approximately 5 miles (line of sight) in area. Linear amplifiers are not that easily available, but they can be constructed with some electrical engineering knowledge.

The third step is the antenna, which if the whole system is to be mobile to avoid detection, is going to involve some experimentation and possible camouflage. Two things to keep in mind about an antenna are that it should be what is technically referred to as a “di-pole” antenna (see diagram) and since TV signals travel on line of sight, it is important to place the antenna as high as possible. Although it hasn’t been done in practice, it certainly is possible to reflect pirate signals off an make equipment that can RF both video and audio existing antenna of a commercial network. This requires a full knowledge of broadcasting; however, any amateur can rig up an antenna, attach it to a helium balloon and get it plenty high. For most, the roof of a tall building will suffice. If you’re really uptight about your operation, the antenna can be hidden with a fake cardboard chimney.

We realize becoming TV guerrillas is not everyone’s trip, but a small band with a few grand can indeed pull it off. There are a lot of technical freaks hanging around recording studios, guitar shops, hi-fi stores and engineering schools that can be turned on to the project. By showing them the guidelines laid out here, they can help you assemble and build various components that are difficult to purchase (i.e., the linear amplifier). Naturally, by building some of the components, the cost of the operation is kept way down. Equipment can be purchased in selective electronics stores. You’ll need a camera, VTR, RF modulator, linear amplifier and antenna. Also a generator, voltage regulator and an alternator if you want the station to be mobile. One of the best sources of information on both television and radio broadcasting is the Radio Amateur’s Handbook published by the American Radio Relay League, Newington, Conn. 06611 and available for $4.50. The handbook gives a complete course in electronics and the latest information on all techniques and equipment related to broadcasting. Back issues have easy to read do-it-yourself TV transmitter diagrams and instructions. Also available is a publication called Radical Software, put out by Raindance Corp., 24 E. 22nd St., New York, N.Y., with the latest info on all types of alternative communications.


“Since the haphazard inception of this page, I have received well over 1000 emails from various folks in all corners of the earth, asking questions, seeking information or advice and offering tidbits of useful knowledge that all contribute to the success of this page. At it’s peak there were more than 10,000 hits per day. I was completely surprised at the substantial interest for Do-It-Yourself antennas that was present in the network community. Thanks to you all.

I did not devise the term “Cantenna”, but to the best of my knowledge, I did build the first one using the popular brand potato crisp can. I’ve adopted the use of the word simply because it’s appropriate. Thank you to the many folks who simultaneously discovered this word.

These antennas were the design of two Japanese people, Hidetsugu Yagi and Shintaro Uda, and are sometimes referred to as Yagi-Uda antennas. They were originally used for radio, long before modern computers. The CQ Amateur Radio Hall of Fame, is pretty cool, and is a good research starting point. This article from Alternative Wireless has some good things to say.

Interference, Health and Security Concerns
I’d like to say a little bit about Electromagnetic Waves. I’m sure you are eager to build an antenna or two for your 802.11b wireless network. Before you do anything else, it is important to think carefully about all the possible consequences of what you are doing. Simply put, you are going to be sending electromagnetic waves through the air. This can cause much distress to folks who are not expecting it, and when they get upset, they will call the FCC. So, you may want be knowledgeable about what you are doing before you do it. A few terms you should be familiar with are Radio Frequency Interference, Electro Magnetic Interference and Bandwidth Saturation.

It has been mentioned in this article that it is not legal to attach a non FCC-approved antenna to a wireless device. I suggest you read the FCC rules and regulations before doing anything. Seattle Wireless has a good collection. The antenna design I illustrate below is extremely experimental. I have heard that it’s use could cause interference in near-band frequencies that are commonly used in things such as portable wireless (not cellular) phones that people may have in their homes near you. There are all kinds of wireless devices out there that operate around the same band as 802.11b, and these are potentially disrupted by use of the equipment described here.

You may consider purchasing an SWR meter and you may exercise much care, consideration and caution for others if and when you decide you need an RF amplifier for use with your antenna. For most applications you will not need one. I have also heard that if your antenna is too efficient, that you may even damage your 802.11b device with too much current/feedback. If you do not know what you are doing, study until you are confident that you will not break people, places or things when you start experimenting. I am providing this information for the sake of information and I am not liable for any damages, injuries or other accidental or intentional harm caused by the use of it. Play nice. We are all in this together.

As if this was not yet enough to keep you from messing around with fast flying electrons, I have received many emails from folks who are very involved with HAM radio and other professions and hobbies that involve work with high frequency microwave radiation. They warn that 2.4 GHz just happens to also be the resonant frequency of plain old water. This is why a microwave oven works. The energy of an 802.11b device is the same kind of energy that cooks your food, but on a much smaller scale. This is important considering that we as humans are 98% made of water. I have been warned that exposure to even as little as a 1/4 watt amplified with a 14db antenna, such as described here, could lead to severe vision problems and possibly other health issues.

I like the idea of using wireless to do cool stuff. It’s really nifty. It’s not very secure though. Nothing really is “secure”. But wireless is even less so, because it is wireless. It does not require some guy breaking in to your home/business and tapping a physical connection for them to see the data you are sending. It’s flowing freely through the air, like the sound from you stereo speakers. If someone was standing outside your house, and you were rockin’ out with your stereo up loud, they could hear it as well.”


How To Build A Tin Can Waveguide WiFi Antenna
for 802.11(b or g) Wireless Networks or other 2.4GHz Applications
10 Euro Dish with Biquad Feeder
DirecPC Wi-Fi Dish w/BiQuad Feed

“The following information will be available through June 30, 2009”

How-To: Build a WiFi biquad dish antenna
by Eliot Phillips / Nov 15th 2005

Wireless enthusiasts have been repurposing satellite dishes for a couple years now. This summer the longest link ever was established over 125 miles using old 12 foot and 10 foot satellite dishes. A dish that big is usually overkill for most people and modern mini-dishes work just as well. The dish helps focus the radio waves onto a directional antenna feed. We’re building a biquad antenna feed because it offers very good performance and is pretty forgiving when it comes to assembly errors. Follow along as we assemble the feed, attach it to a DirecTV dish and test out its performance. Why? With just a handful of cheap parts, a salvaged DirecTV dish and a little soldering, we were able to detect access points from over 8 miles away. Using consumer WiFi gear we picked up over 18 APs in an area with only 1 house per square mile.

Building the antenna
Biquad antennas can be built from common materials, which is nice because you don’t have to scrounge around for the perfectly-sized soup can. We did have to buy some specialized parts before getting started though. The most important part here is the small silver panel mount N-connector in the center of the picture; the entire antenna will be built on this. We purchased it from S.M. Electronics, part# 1113-000-N331-011. The “N-connector” is standard across the majority of commercial antennas and you can connect them to your wireless devices using “pigtails.” The longer pigtail in the picture is a RP-TNC to N-Male pigtail that we’ll use to connect our antenna to a Linksys WRT54G access point. The short pigtail is a RP-MMCX to N-Male pigtail so we can connect to our Senao 2511CD PLUS EXT2 WiFi card which is pictured. We also purchased 10 feet of WBC 400 coax cable so we wouldn’t have to sit with the dish in our lap. We got our surplus DirecTV dish from Freecycle. We’ll cover the reason for the mini butane torch later.

Trevor Marshall built one of the first biquad WiFi antennas found on the internet. We followed the slightly more thorough instructions found at Here are the raw materials we started with: The wire is standard solid-core 3-conductor wire used for most house wiring. We didn’t have any copper printed circuit board material laying around so we used this thin sheet of copper and supported it using the 1/4-inch thick black plastic pictured.

The first step in building the element was stripping and cutting a 244mm length of wire. We marked the wire every 31mm with a permanent marker and began bending the wire into a double diamond shape. We tried to make the length of each leg 30.5mm. The easiest way to make really sharp bends in the solid copper wire is to use two pairs of pliers. With the pliers held perpendicular to each other bend the wire against one of the sets of jaws. Next we cut out a 110mm square of black plastic to use as a base for the reflector. We drilled a hole in the center to clear our connector. We then soldered a piece of copper wire to the center pin of our N-connector.

Next we soldered a piece of of wire to the outside of the connector. We ran into some trouble here. Our cheapy iron was not capable of getting the connector’s base hot enough to make a good solder joint. We bought a butane torch and used that to heat up the surfaces. This worked pretty well except it desoldered our center pin. We recommend you solder the outside piece of wire first before doing the center one. After the connector had cooled it was attached to the black plastic base using epoxy. The thin copper sheet was attached to the front with epoxy and trimmed to fit.

We let the epoxy cure for a while before proceeding. The next step was to solder our bow tie shaped element to the vertical wires. The element was supported by two pieces of scrap copper trimmed to 15mm to ensure proper positioning. Then the extra wire was trimmed off and the outside wire was soldered to the ground plane to complete the antenna. To make mounting to the dish easy we modified the original feedhorn. After removing the housing, internal components and shortening the feedhorn looked like this.

The antenna is attached by inserting the N-connector into the tube and then connecting the coax cable. Since the satellite dish has an off-center feed it looks like it is pointed at the ground when it is level with the horizon. Even though there are no angle markings for setting the dish at 0 degrees inclination we can still ensure that the dish is pointing at the horizon by setting the dish angle to 45 degrees and mounting it on a tube with a 45 degree angle.

Test results
The Engadget Corn Belt Testing Facility has broadband access provided by a local WISP. So we knew if we plugged in our antenna we were sure to pick up something in the area. We pointed the dish at the closest grain elevator, where the WISP mounts their antennas. We connected the dish feed to our Senao card and started up Kismet.

We expected to get one AP, but five is even better. Looking through the info strings we were able to determine where the APs were since the WISP had named them according to the town they are in. The AP on channel 5 is the one we pointed at in town A, 2.4 miles away. The AP on channel 6 is located in town B, 8.2 miles away. The two APs on channel 1 are a bridge between town A and town C which is located 2.6 miles directly behind the dish.

Our next test was to hook our WRT54G up to the dish and point it at a hill 1 mile away. We drove to the top of the hill and used an omnidirectional mini whip antenna with our Senao card to detect it. Our router was picked up easily. The found 14 other WISP APs including town D, 7.8 miles away. The WISP is definitely using some high powered equipment if we’re just picking this up with an omnidirectional antenna. For a final test we put the dish on the roof rack and parked on top of the hill to see if we could pick up any more APs. Our final count is 18 APs, 17 of those belonging to the WISP. This was a pretty fun project and shows that you can build decent wireless solutions using consumer gear.

For the curious: The WISP gives its subscribers a patch antenna with a built in power-over-ethernet access point. Once the antenna is mounted to the roof they run a single ethernet cable into the house which means they don’t have to worry about signal loss from coax. These client boxes are manufactured by Tranzeo.

Trevor Marshall
email : trevor [at] trevormarshall [dot] com / tm [at] well [dot] com

Andrew S. Clapp
email : clapp [at] aeonic [dot] com

Use a Surplus Primestar Dish as an IEEE 802.11 Wireless Networking Antenna

Primestar was recently purchased by Direct TV who is phasing out all the Primestar equipment. This means that the dishes are being trashed, and are available for other uses such as the one I describe here. It is easy to make a surplus Primestar dish into a highly directional antenna for the very popular IEEE 802.11 wireless networking. The resulting antenna has about 22 db of gain, and is fed with 50 ohm coaxial cable. Usually LMR400 or 9913 low loss cable is used if the source is more than a few feet from the antenna. The range using two of these antennas with a line of sight path is around 10 miles at full bandwidth. I must stress the line of sight part though. Leaves really attenuate the signal.

Things You Will Need:
1. A Primestar dish. (You may use any old dish, but if it is bigger than the Primestar the gain will be higher, and it may not be within the Federal Communications Commission rules for use within the United States. In fact I have come to find out that there seem to be several different dishes that Primestar used, and I am only sure that the one I used, pictured above, used with the ordinary Wavelan or Airport transceiver card is within the effective radiated power limits given by the FCC.)
2. A juice can (about 4 inches in diameter and at least 8 inches long).
3. A chassis mount N connector.
4. You will also need a “pigtail” connector which has the proprietary Lucent connector (for the PCMCIA card) on one end and an N connector on the other. The pigtail can be obtained from a number of online stores for $35 to $40.

Use the Feed Can By Itself
You can use the feed can by itself as a cheap antenna. It works as well as the commercially available “range extender” antenna, but only in one direction, and it is so easy to construct!

IEEE 802.11a
This antenna modification is for the IEEE 802.11b networking protocol that operates at 2.4 GHz. It can be scaled easily to the 5 GHz frequency used by IEEE 802.11a by simply scaling the dimensions on the feed can and the excitation antenna to 2.4/5 = 48% of the dimensions shown above.
“Dean Eckstrom at Cornell University put the entire access point at the focus of the dish.”

A Brief History, by Aleiha

Parabolic cookers have been used for centuries now. The idea to concentrate light using curved mirrors was developed by the Greeks, Aztecs, Incas, Romans and Chinese. The Incas used bronze and gold for their mirrors and they built structures that were several stories high. This technology seems to have appeared around the same time for each of the civilizations. It is thought that Archimedes harnessed the technologyW to defend Syracuse from invading Roman fleets in 212 BC.

My Parabolic Solar Cooker
At first, I was open to anything to construct the solar cooker. I was thinking about constructing my paraboloid out of cobb and then sticking small pieces of glass into it as I’ve seen others do. However, it takes a lot of time to collect the cobb materials and build a paraboloid out of it, let alone one whose focus was accurate. A donated dish was viable, but would not have the heat capacity I was going for, so I set out to find another dish. While rummaging around Arcata Scrap and Salvage one day, I came across an old mesh satellite dish and I knew I had found my cooker. My mentor Bart Orlando and I hauled it to the Bike Library where my cooker began to take shape.

Location and Help
Most of the construction and testing took place at the Arcata Bike Library with the help of Bart Orlando. However, I did most of the cutting of the sheet metal at the HSU sculpture lab. We also used the pedal-powered tools there to construct the mount hot plate grill.

Materials Used
* Satellite dish (6 ft. in diameter)
* Sheet aluminum
* Conduit piping
* A bike rim
* Aluminum rivets and washers
* Nuts & bolts

The basic idea was to use a satellite dish and rivet sheet aluminum to it. This is because a satellite dish is already a paraboloid shape with a fairly exact focus. The sheet aluminum was to be cut into triangular pieces and then drilled in 3-5 places for the rivets. They would conform to the shape of the paraboloid and not lessen the integrity of the focal point. We wanted the aluminum to be as exact as possible to ensure that it would reflect enough light to fry some potatoes. I wanted to do more than boil water with my cooker.

The hot plate grill was to be constructed out of conduit and bike rims. We would flatten the ends of the conduit for easier attachment to the center pipe and rims, and then bolt it all together. We decided that a gimble would be the best for this project, so that we could move the pan (or pot) in any direction necessary to receive optimal sunlight. This is a more difficult design, but it gives the dish more freedom and a higher heating capacity.

We began the project by testing a dish that Bart had at the Bike Library. It was slightly oblong and wasn’t concave much, so we decided to test how accurate the focus was. I taped a few pieces of mylar on it and Bart and I took it out into the sun. It turned out that the dish had many foci because of its’ oblong shape. I had to set out to find another dish if I wanted to be able to fry food with it. The one we had just wasn’t going to cut it. That’s when I made a trip to Arcata Scrap and Salvage and found the perfect dish for my project.
can you see the light reflecting on my hand?

Final Construction
We started by disassembling the focal point of the dish. There was an awkward pole sticking out of the center which was not appropriate for the design we were going for. We got a grinder out and sawed through the metal so that we could manipulate the pipe into a hot plate grill. Since the pole was bent near the base, we figured that it might not work for our design specifics. Luckily, we found that we could remove the pole by loosening a bolt at the base, and that allowed for it to slide right out. We were able to locate a longer pole later on, but at the time, we were planning on using the one that came with the dish. We also had to remove a bunch of miscellaneous pipes and widgets sticking out the back side of the dish. They were things that helped keep the dish balanced in place but were not needed in our design. After that, the dish was ready to for transformation.
Sawing off the old mount pole.

The Hot Plate Grill
The next step was to construct a hot plate grill. The original focal point was somewhere between 27-31″ but we forgot exactly. In order to make the mount, we needed to know how long to make it, so I decided to find the theoretical focus by using the formula: x2 = 4 * p * y. It worked out to be 29 3/4″. We decided that it would be best if we used conduit to form a “v” shape and then fit in a few bike rims for the hot plate. We had to flatten the ends of the conduit and make sure that they were the right angle for the focus. This was done using a clamp and we were able to bend both pieces of conduit at the same time. The conduit pipes were a little too long so we had to shorten them using a Sawz-All at the Bike Library. After the sizing, it was time to drill some holes using a pedal powered drill press. We discovered that the center pipe we wanted to use was slightly shorter than we wanted, but being that we were in such a resourceful area, we rummaged around and found a pipe that was the perfect size and width. The next step was to drill holes in the flattened sides of the conduit and our newly-found pipe and fit the pieces together. They fit quite nicely. We had to make sure that both the conduit pipes were bent at the same angle or else the structure would be unstable. The next step was to drill holes in the bike rim so that we could bolt it to the mount structure we just created. We drilled the holes using a drill press at the HSU sculpture lab and it was ready to be bolted together.

The Mirror Finish
Bart had acquired a bunch of sheet metal that he had wanted to use on a previous project, but decided that my dish could use them. There wasn’t quite enough cut pieces to cover the entire surface area of the dish and I had to take some scrap sheet aluminum to the HSU sculpture lab to cut them into triangular shapes. After they had been cut, they needed to be prepared for riveting. It took about a half an hour to drill holes in all of the pieces and they were quickly ready to be fastened to the dish. While putting the pieces in place, we noticed that the holes we had drilled did not always match the pattern of the mesh, and there were areas where the mesh was covered with pieces of solid metal. These areas had to be dealt with differently. In some areas, we were able to drill holes through the metal for the rivets, and in others, we devised a way of using a thin wire to attach the pieces. I used a paperclip I found on the ground and stuck it through the hole and then through the mesh slightly above the triangle. Using pliers, I twisted the ends of the paperclip to form a tight grasp on the metal; it worked quite well. I was also able to get rivets with a larger gripping range and that helped with the thicker areas. After the pieces were all riveted into place, we noticed that there was a gap – there wasn’t quite enough sheet metal to cover the whole dish. I drilled some more holes in the scrap pieces I had and was able to fasten them to the dish. There’s still a little gap, but that really won’t matter since the dish is so big, and most of it is coated anyway. The last step was to buff the aluminum to a sweet finish.

The Final Product
Now the dish is ready for cookin’. It could use a little shining up with some Citra-Sol or something of that nature, but even without a shine job, the focus gets pretty hot. In terms of setting the dish up, all we need is to lean it up on something. There’s a mount on the back of it with the capability of being staked in the ground. For that, I would have to find a long piece of pipe about 3 1/2″ in diameter and at least 1/4″ thick.

My solar cooker is spectacular for cooking veggie burgers and beans. At 1:00 pm, the dish heats up to 400 oF. Around 2:00-3:00 pm, the dish heats up to 350 oF. I’ve found that the cooker doesn’t burn food too easily. When I’ve forgotten abut something that’s cooking, the sun moves in the sky. That automatically reduces the heat at the focus. Things have gotten caramelized, but it’s hard to burn something.

Everything else we had lying around at the bike library and was free (i.e. nuts & bolts, bike rims, pipes, tools). Bart gave me sheet metal that he was going to use for a different dish so that I could make mine.

The first time you construct a solar cooker, you learn a lot in terms of what methods and materials to incorporate in construction. The next cooker I make will probably be a lot easier since I’ve already been through it. Next time, I would like to use a lighter aluminum for the mirror finish. The dish is relatively light for it’s size, but it’s certainly difficult to handle on your own. I would also consider a dish without reinforcing structures. They got in the way when I was riveting, and as unable to attach the aluminum in some areas. In order to be exact, the mirror finish needs to coat the entire surface area of the dish. This increases the heat capacity. But considering my dish’s size, I don’t think that it will have a hard time reaching high temperatures. And it hasn’t. I’ve been cooking lunch with it for the past few days now, without a shine job on the sheet aluminum.

This project was the coolest thing I’ve done all year. Cooking food with my solar cooker is the best feeling in the world. It’s cool to see something that I created work so well. The thing that I would like to add is a mount pole for the back of the dish. I am able to lean it up against a chair and stuff like that, but if i have to put it up at a hard angle, I might have a little more trouble. So that’s something I’ll have to think about, but for now, I’m having a blast in the afternoons cooking gardenburgers and fried potatoes.

Things to Keep in Mind/Common Errors to Avoid
* Watch out for stray rays of light that come off your cooker. They could possibly start a fire if you aren’t careful. It isn’t much of a worry if your dish is more concave, but the flatter the dish is, the more likely that you will have stray rays of light.
* Wear sunglasses when cooking because it gets really bright and hard for your eyes to handle.
* Use a cast-iron or some other type of black cooking pot/pan. Any other color might reflect the light and that’s not what you want. The black absorbs the light and brings the temperature up in the pot/pan.

Intelsat to turn off LTTE beam – Tigers’ satellite piracy bared
BY Walter Jayawardhana

US: The Washington-based Intelsat gave a firm assurance yesterday that it would take all possible steps to stop the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) from illegally broadcasting its propaganda over their satellites. “Intelsat does not tolerate terrorists operating illegally on it satellites. Since we first learned of the LTTE’s signal piracy, we have been actively pursuing a number of technical alternatives to halt the transmissions. We are clear in our resolve to ending this terrorist organisation’s unauthorised use of our satellite,” Intelsat, the world’s largest provider of fixed satellite services, said in a statement.

The announcement came after Intelsat officials and technical experts met Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to the United States Bernard Goonetilleke on Tuesday to discuss the steps Intelsat was taking to address the unauthorised use of one of its satellites by the LTTE. “We have been actively pursuing avenues to terminate the illegal usage of our satellite,” Intelsat spokesman Nick Mitsis said.

In a telephone interview, Intelsat’s Executive Vice President and General Counsel Phillip Spector told this correspondent that his corporation would do “every possible thing to turn off the LTTE (sponsored national Television of Tamil Eelam and Voice of the Tigers radio programme) as soon as possible” from their satellite. Spector maintained the position of the corporation that the LTTE was pirating an empty transponder frequency of their Satellite 12 for the broadcasts. He said it was actually stealing the space of the satellite and called it piracy.

Asked whether al-Qaeda could use the same satellite for the purpose of an attack against the United States, Spector said it was only a hypothetical situation. But when pressed for an answer, Spector said it was technically possible. Spector said no customer is authorised to sell their frequency to anybody else and maintained it was an empty space the LTTE was using. Spector denied earlier published newspaper reports that Intelsat has done business with Hezbollah, another terrorist group, and insisted “Not in my time”.

While refusing to give a date for turning off the LTTE, the Intelsat lawyer said “if you understand the satellite technology it is quite a complex task and it will be done as soon as possible”. Intelsat said: “Intelsat, the leading provider of global satellite communications, today issued a statement with regard to the unauthorised use of one of its satellites by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The US State Department lists the LTTE as a foreign terrorist organisation. The Sri Lanka Embassy and Intelsat agree that these illegal transmissions by the LTTE are a violation of Sri Lankan and US laws. Following the discussion, Ambassador Goonetilleke said: “I am satisfied that Intelsat is taking these unauthorised transmissions very seriously, and believe it would do all that it can to stop the terrorist transmissions. I am confident that Intelsat will continue to cooperate with Sri Lankan authorities in this matter.” The issue was also taken up by Sri Lanka at a meeting of the International Telecommunications Satellite Organisation in Paris last month, Sri Lankan officials said.

Behind Falun Gong’s satellite hack – cult hijacks satellite signal –
by John C. Tanner / Telecom Asia / August, 2002

The Chinese government is furious over a rare but successful case of satellite signal hijacking in which TV signals from the Sinosat-1 satellite were temporarily overridden and replaced with programming promoting the outlawed Falun Gong cult. According to an official Sinosat statement released 8 July, a series of signal hijacks occurred between 23 June and 30 June, attacking Sinosat’s 2A and 3A transponders, which provide TV signals to rural villages in China via an earth station in Yungang, which reported that all of state TV broadcaster CCTV’s nine channels, as well as 10 provincial channels, had been hijacked by “unidentified signals … of similar frequency spectrum with that of the CCTV programs”. Minutes after monitor screens went black, Sinosat says, “Falun Gong propaganda materials appeared on screen; and … the word `Falun Gong’ in Chinese flashed again on the screen”. The Chinese government–which outlawed the Falun Gong as an “evil cult” in 1999, and also puts a premium on strict media control–has predictably condemned the hijackings, and has vowed to hunt down and punish those responsible. One obstacle Chinese officials face in that regard is whether the hijackers are even within China’s legal jurisdiction. The Ministry of information Industry has accused–but not publicly identified–overseas parties of helping to plan the interruption.

Hijacking Sinosat signals from outside the country is possible since Sinosat’s footprint extends well outside China’s borders, to include the Indo-Chinese peninsula, Indonesia and the Philippines. Satellite experts say that overriding a satellite signal requires a satellite dish transceiver a minimum of three meters wide and with a transmission power well beyond the capabilities of off-the-shelf consumer gear. Hijackers would either have to commandeer an earth station facility or get hold of an industrial-grade dish that can be moved around and hidden. This is why jamming satellite signals is often the province of military organizations and disgruntled earth station employees rather than independent groups.

However, it wouldn’t be the first time Falun Gong members have interrupted regular TV programming in China. In April, Chinese officials arrested nine Falun Gong members for hacking into a Chinese cable TV system on 5 March in the northeastern city of Changchun, where they allegedly cut off TV signals and used home-made broadcasting equipment to air their own programs. And that was one of seven reported cable-TV hacks during the first half of this year, according to the group’s Falun Dafa Information Center, which confirmed the activity in a 28 June editorial–five days after the first satellite signal hijacking was reported.

Satellite hack raises security questions
BY Corey Grice / March 3, 1999

Britain’s Ministry of Defense is denying that the nation’s military satellites were hacked, but the reported disruption raises questions about the security of all satellite-based communications services. Control of one of the satellites in Britain’s Skynet system, which delivers communications services to the nation’s Royal Air Force and other armed forces units, was reportedly seized by hackers over the weekend. The British government was then the subject of an alleged blackmail threat following the attack.

But the government is denying that the James Bond-like incident ever occurred. “The satellite system has not been hacked into and the satellite has not changed course,” said a spokeswoman for Britain’s Ministry of Defense, who declined to give her name. “And, the security levels make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to hack into the system.” Industry experts said hacking into a satellite system is difficult, and commercial satellites are relatively safe from meddlers. Yet as the communications industry begins to rely more heavily upon satellites, the cause for concern over hackers is no longer limited to Webmasters.

Commercial satellite launches are on the rise and the number of “birds” in the sky continues to grow. There are about 330 commercial satellites in orbit today, according to the Satellite Industry Association, a commercial trade group. Companies such as Iridium, a satellite mobile phone provider which owns a 66-satellite network, and Teledesic, a satellite data provider, have hinged their whole business success on their galactic machinery. Meanwhile, direct broadcast satellite operators, such as DirecTV and EchoStar Communications, have grown in popularity in recent years and, as a result, have cut into the cable television market.

This increasing use of satellites raises security and reliability questions should computer hackers turn their attention to the heavens. Although not the work of hackers, nearly 40 million paging customers were without service last year when PanAmSat’s Galaxy IV satellite broke down–a reminder of what could happen when a communications satellite fails. “[Hacking is] a concern and companies are taking steps to prevent that,” said Clayton Mowry, executive director of the Satellite Industry Association. “But it’s not like you’d use a backyard dish to do this.” Industry experts said satellite companies use encryption to protect their data and company control centers, used to monitor satellites and maintain their correct position in space, are typically secure facilities with surveillance cameras, alarms, and other security measures. “You’d need the encryption keys, or access to a control center, or both,” Mowry said. “I don’t know of any cases where satellites have been commandeered.”

How to hack
Analysts said there are several ways satellite systems can be disrupted. With sufficient power from a satellite dish on the ground, an orbiting satellite’s signal can be blocked. “One way is simply brute force, by sending a signal up to a given satellite and jamming it,” said Steve Blum, president of Tellus Venture Associates, a satellite consulting firm. “That’s nothing new. That’s as old as radio itself.”

Experts said that occasionally happens by accident, but jamming a satellite is easy to trace and communications services, such as TV signals, are rarely disrupted as programmers and providers usually have backup capacity on other satellites. The computer systems used to monitor and control the satellites also pose a potential weak link; although most are housed in secure facilities, in theory they could be infiltrated, Blum said.

But industry sources said many of the potential pitfalls are not unique to satellites. Smaller radio stations have been known to have their signals blocked by more powerful transmitters. And hackers could just as easily attempt to break into the computer systems of a cable operator in an attempt to shut down services to a certain neighborhood. “The guys that designed these systems all have military histories,” Blum said. “You’re dealing with companies that are very much knowledgeable about security.”



Every time a thruster is fired, propellant is used. Once the supply of propellant is exhausted, the satellite cannot be maintained at proper position and attitude, and the satellite must be retired. Propellant capacity is the primary factor which determines the useful life of a communications satellite. It is easy to understand that a primary goal of every satellite owner is the conservation of propellant. Many computer studies have been done to determine the optimum trade-off between satellite stability and propellant usage. These studies have shown that a substantial majority of the propellant is used for just one stationkeeping function: keeping the satellite from drifting along its north-south axis. Kent Carson, director of advanced programs for Comsat Systems Division, has stated that between 80% and 90% of the propellant is used for this function alone. [1]

Economics Of Inclined Orbits
From the point of view of a satellite owner, the economics of this situation are compelling. On one hand, the revenue derived from leasing transponder time on an inclined-orbit satellite is considerably less than the revenue which could be realized from a truly geostationary satellite. On the other hand, propellent usage is cut dramatically, thereby extending the useful life of the satellite, often by several years. The potential revenue to be derived from this extended life more than offsets the revenue lost through reduced transponder pricing. It comes as no surprise, then, that many satellite owners have allowed their geostationary satellites to drift into inclined orbits.

With vintage satellites still in orbit, sales are grounded
Their longevity surprises manufacturers but is bad for business. Upon retirement, they join the mass of space junk.
BY Peter Pae / December 01, 2008

If only cars could last so long. This month, a satellite resembling a shiny spinning drum and orbiting 21,156 miles above Earth celebrated its 41st birthday, astounding engineers and scientists, some of them the children of those who built it.

For years, the satellite has served as an emergency communications link for rescue operations, including the 1985 Mexico City earthquake and the 1980 Mt. St. Helens volcanic eruption. It was supposed to live for only three years when it was launched in 1967. That’s when Lyndon B. Johnson was president and bell-bottom pants were the rage. But the spacecraft, known as ATS 3, isn’t alone. Many satellites are operating well past their life expectancy, so much so that manufacturers are hurting from lack of demand for new, replacement satellites.

And those who are buying are asking for guarantees that the new satellites, which can cost as much as $300 million each, will last two to three times as long as the early birds. “It’s a mixed blessing,” said John S. Edwards, a space industry analyst for Forecast International. “It says great things about your product, but the satellite-making business is floundering because there are hardly any sales.”

Engineers at Boeing Co.’s sprawling satellite-making plant in El Segundo know about the sales drought only too well. Of the 245 Boeing satellites that have been launched into service, 166 have exceeded their design life. That’s more than two-thirds of the spacecraft built at the facility since the 1960s. A third of all satellites have lasted at least twice as long as expected. That has been the bane of the sales department. With the telecom bust early this decade and consolidation in the satellite services industry, Boeing has sold only one commercial satellite this year. In the late-1990s boom years, it was tallying a dozen orders annually.

Some satellites are living longer because the initial estimates of their longevity were conservative, but many have operated well beyond even the wildest expectations. “In designing them, we had to take into account all the worst-case scenarios,” said Art Rosales, Boeing’s director of commercial and civil satellite services and a 29-year veteran of the satellite business. Because most satellites can’t be repaired once they’re in space, every contingency was considered. “The worst cases didn’t happen, and that has translated to longer life,” he said.

BY Gary Bourgois (flash [at] lopez.marquette.mi [dot] us) with numerous contributions by others

40. What Is An Inclined Orbit Satellite And How Can I Receive Them?
Inclined orbit birds are satellites that “wobble” north and south of the
vary in the vertical plane, as explained in the previous paragraph. At
the end of a satellite’s life, when station keeping fuel is running low
if a replacement satellite is not ready, there is the option to “go
inclined”. One method used is called the “Comsat Maneuver”, which puts
the bird into an elongated figure 8 pattern. On C band this method can
get 6 months or more of life out of a near dead satellite (Usually the
electronics are fine, it is just the low amount of Hydrazine fuel that
marks the EOL or End Of Life of a satellite. On C band a slightly
inclined satellite will appear to have a weaker signal during parts of the
day when it is off axis. Many of us remember that this was done with the
old Telstar 301, causing some of the Wild and Network feeds to be less than
perfect. However, it is better than no satellite at all, which is the
case when a launched bird BLOWS UP like Telstar 402 did in late 1994, meaning
that 302 will go inclined while waiting for T-402R. In addition to these
situations, there are birds that are kept in inclined orbits for YEARS.
Several Intelsats are this way, as are a couple of SBS birds, such as
SBS3. ON KU band, because of narrower beamwidth, an inclined bird can
only be viewed during an hour or so a day on a standard satellite system,
when its wobble places it directly over the equator. The Robert Smathers
SSSSC Chart lists the times of day you can pick up these inclined birds.
Some, like SBS3 have a continuous ID slate so you can find them.
Professional Downlinkers often have DUAL AXIS tracking systems which allow
for adjustment in the vertical as well as horizontal plane. In 1995, NBC
will move its feeds off K2 and onto an inclined SBS bird. All NBC affiliates
will be outfitted with costly auto tracking systems. The good news is that
it is now possible for the HOME BACKYARD TVRO OWNER to install his own
system to track these inclined orbit birds. The key component of this
setup is a “vertical kit” which consists of a heavy steel “hinge” which
will allow your dish to move up and down. The cost for this kit is around
$70, and if you are a bit of a tinkerer, it is well worth the money. To this
kit, you simply add a positioner arm (you can do like I did and scrounge one
for very little money) and you will need a means of providing the 24 volt
DC current with switchable polarity. This can be accomplished by using
an old manual type dish positioner to control the vertical tracking. These
can be had free or very cheap. Such a system is NOT automatic, you need
to use your eyeballs and your IRD’s signal readout to peak the signal and
you need to adjust the tracking every 10 minutes or so. If you are chasing
newsfeeds, this won’t be too much bother. If you really get into tracking
inclined birds, there are computerized tracking systems, and even a few
IRD’s that have the ability to track them automatically. It depends on
your own tastes, desires, and level of technical expertise. The vertical
kit I purchased was from Global Communications (See Dealer list at end of
this article) Since he is a TVRO dish design engineer, he can quickly
determine if your system will adapt to this type of system. Hint: if you
have an AJAK H/H drive, the answer is YES! During the Olympics it was fun
to be able to watch the feeds LIVE and not have to wait for the USA delay
broadcasts. Many of these feeds were on an inclined Intelsat. Besides
NBC, activity on inclined birds is fairly sparse, mostly special feeds.
Thus the option of being able to track these satellites is not for everyone
but the option is certainly there for folks who do.

39. How Long Does A Satellite “Last” And Why Do They Get Regularly Replaced?
The average lifespan for a communications satellite is about 10 years. While
the electronics inside the satellite can last many many years, the
determining factor is the “station keeping fuel”. Satellites only “appear to
be stationary because of their location in the Clarke Belt, in reality they
are whirring about the planet, and their orbits become eccentric if left
alone. So each satellite has small rockets on board to regularly adjust
the orbit of the bird. After 10 years this fuel runs out, and the satellite
can no longer be adjusted with respect to its position. This causes the
satellite to start to appear to “wobble” up and down in the orbital plane,
and eventually become unusable. Before this happens, a replacement bird
is launched, and the old satellite is unceremoniously “kicked” up into a
higher “parking” orbit. While it is a nice thought that some day a
space salvage company could go up there and refuel all those old birds,
it is unlikely, and the rapid changes in technology make the older low
power satellites nothing more than curious antiques.

New Inclined Orbit Satellite Tracking Algorithm

C-COM has developed a proprietary inclined orbit satellite tracking algorithm which will provide C-COM customers the ability to use inclined orbit satellites for their space segment needs. Inclined orbit satellites are end of life satellites that may have an additional useful life span from 6 month to a few years, however they are no longer in their prescribed controlled orbit due to lack of fuel.

From the point of view of a satellite owner, the economics of this situation are compelling. On one hand, the revenue derived from leasing transponder time on an inclined-orbit satellite is considerably less than the revenue which could be realized from a truly geostationary satellite. On the other hand, propellent usage is cut dramatically, thereby extending the useful life of the satellite, often by several years. The potential revenue to be derived from this extended life more than offsets the revenue lost through reduced transponder pricing. It comes as no surprise, then, that many satellite owners have allowed their geostationary satellites to drift into inclined irbits.

An inclined-orbit satellite poses a problem for the end user: the earth station antenna must track the satellite. For this purpose, the antenna must be equipped with a dual-axis steerable mount and a tracking controller. A dual-axis steerable mount is a motorized mount which can be moved independently about two axes: east-west and up-down. Those moves are program-controlled. This type of controller mathematically calculates the pointing angles to the satellite and moves the antenna accordingly. Calculations are based on program data entered into the controller.

This type of controller is capable of moving the antenna continuously, rather than in a series of steps. This technique is advantageous in low-signal situations where any change in AGC voltage would result in degraded signal quality. With this feature enabled, the iNetVu controller will ensure that the mobile antenna maintains its maximum peaked signal on the configured inclined orbit satellite irrespective of their inclination angle. They have decided to develop this proprietary inclined orbit application for iNetVu controllers based on demand from the customers. This added feature will provide existing and future customers with the ability to use any inclined orbit satellite, should there be one available to them, and take advantage of the lower cost space segment offered over these satellites.



Don Kessler
email : djk1940 [at] charter [dot] net

BY Donald J. Kessler / March 8, 2009

The “Kessler Syndrome” is an orbital debris term that has become popular outside the professional orbital debris community without ever having a strict definition. The purpose of this writing is to clarify the intended definition, to put the implications into perspective after 30 years of research by the international scientific community, and to discuss what it may mean to future space operations.

Historical Background
As far as I am aware, the term originated with a colleague, John Gabbard, who worked for NORAD. NORAD maintained a catalogue of man-made objects in orbit, but did not maintain a breakup record of events in orbit. John unofficially kept a record of major satellite breakup events, which later proved very useful in understanding the sources of smaller orbital debris. John is known for his description of these events with a graph we now call a “Gabbard Plot”.

When I met John in 1978, I had just published the Journal of Geophysical Research (JGR) paper, “Collision Frequency of Artificial Satellites: The Creation of a Debris Belt”. This paper predicted that around the year 2000 the population of catalogued debris in orbit around the Earth would become so dense that catalogued objects would begin breaking up as a result of random collisions with other catalogued objects and become an important source of future debris. These finding were important for three reasons:
1. At the time, it was generally assumed that there were very few objects in orbit that were too small to catalogue, although there was no definition as to what limiting size was in the catalogue. The paper illustrated that even if this assumption were correct, future collisions between catalogued objects would produce a large amount of small debris fragments. This small debris population would be more hazardous to other spacecraft than the natural meteoroid environment immediately after the first collision.
2. Each collision would also produce several hundred objects large enough to catalogue, increasing the rate that future collision breakups would occur….resulting in an exponential growth in the collision rate and debris population.
3. The only way to prevent this exponential growth was to reduce the number of rocket bodies and non-operational spacecraft left in orbit after their useful lifetime.

It was the second prediction that caught John Gabbard’s attention. While talking to a reporter shortly after the publication of the JGR paper, John used the phrase “Kessler Syndrome” to summarize my prediction of a future cascading of collisions in orbit. The reporter published the phrase. Perhaps it was a 1982 Popular Science article that made the term more popular, since the Aviation and Space Writers Association gave the author, Jim Schefter, the 1982 National Journalism Award for the article. However, regardless of the source, the label stuck, becoming part of the storyline in some science fiction, and a three-word summary describing orbital debris issues.

However, not all who have used the phrase have referred to it in the context of its original meaning. It was never intended to mean that the cascading would occur over a period of time as short as days or months. Nor was it a prediction that the current environment was above some critical threshold…although the concept of a critical threshold was an important possibility that was studied in detail more than 10 years later. The “Kessler Syndrome” was meant to describe the phenomenon that random collisions between objects large enough to catalogue would produce a hazard to spacecraft from small debris that is greater than the natural meteoroid environment. In addition, because the random collision frequency is non-linear with debris accumulation rates, the phenomenon will eventually become the most important long-term source of debris, unless the accumulation rate of larger, non-operational objects (e.g., non-operational payloads and upper stage rocket bodies) in Earth orbit were significantly reduced. Based on past accumulation rates, the 1978 publication predicted that random collision would become an important debris source around the year 2000, with the rate of random collisions increasing rapidly after that, if the accumulation rate were not reduced to near zero.

Findings Since 1978
Combined with the discovery that 42% of the catalogued objects were the results of only 19 explosions in orbit of U.S. upper stage rockets and that NORAD was not tracking “all man-made objects” as generally believed, NASA took these findings and predictions seriously. Beginning in October of 1979, I was given funds to begin research for data to more accurately define the current and future debris hazard, and understand techniques to limit the future growth in the debris population. With these funds, we accomplished our objectives with a combination of modeling, measurements that sampled the environment, ground tests to simulate space collisions, and coordination with the space community to determine cost-effective techniques to minimize future growth of the debris population.

We sampled the small debris environment by developing and using ground telescopes and powerful, shorter wavelength radars. We also analyzed recovered spacecraft surfaces for impacts using scanning electronic microscopes, which allowed us to determine the chemistry of the objects causing those impacts. Together with the Air Force, we conducted hypervelocity ground simulation of collisions and examined ground explosion data to more accurately predict the amount of small debris generated. We also developed much more elaborate computer models which we used to test our assumptions and ground data against the data we obtained by sampling the environment. We used these computer models to test the effectiveness of various techniques to minimize future growth in the debris population. These efforts were lead by a team of scientists in what is now known as the NASA Orbital Debris Program Office. Other international governmental agencies participated in this research, forming an international organization now known as the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee (IADC). The following conclusions were reached as a result of this research:
1. The hazard from the debris that was too small to catalogue had already exceeded the hazard from the natural meteoroid environment. The sources of that debris included not only explosions, but paint flecks from spacecraft surfaces, exhaust from solid rocket upper stages, and leaks of coolant from nuclear reactors.
2. Better data and more accurate modeling by NASA and the international community support the conclusion that the long-term threat to the environment is collision cascading, as predicted in 1978.
3. Modeling results supported by data from USAF tests, as well as by a number of independent scientists, have concluded that the current debris environment is “unstable”, or above a critical threshold, such that any attempt to achieve a growth-free small debris environment by eliminating sources of past debris will likely fail because fragments from future collisions will be generated faster than atmospheric drag will remove them.
4. Although the rate of growth in the catalogued population has been reduced as a result of new operational procedures that minimize the possibility of explosions in orbits and leaving non-operational upper stages and payload in orbit for periods longer than 25 years, the catalogued population continues to increase, but at a lower rate than it was increasing prior to the 1978 paper.

Significance of the “Kessler Syndrome” Today
On February 10, 2009 the Iridium 33 and Cosmos 2251 satellites collided with a velocity of ll.6 km/sec, at an altitude of 790 km. The collision was catastrophic, likely producing hundreds of fragments large enough to catastrophically breakup other satellites, and tens of thousands of fragments large enough to damage other satellites. This is the first clear example of what was predicted in 1978. Although there have been three other random collisions between catalogued objects since 1991, none of those were catastrophic.

Although all existing data and analysis support the major conclusions presented in the 1978 JGR paper, there are minor differences. The most obvious is the difference between the predicted growth rate in the catalogue population of 510 objects per year compared with the actual growth rate, which was less. There were a number of conditions that contributed to the lower rate: 1. The success of the orbital debris program in establishing international agreements that reduced the number of accidental explosions in orbit. These explosions had been a major source of catalogued debris. 2. An abnormally high solar activity increased the upper atmospheric density and caused more satellites to reenter. 3. The declining economy and eventual fall of the USSR significantly reduced the number of Soviet launches. As a result of these conditions, the actual average growth rate over the last 50 years was about 300 objects per year. This rate would have been lower, had it not been for the Chinese anti-satellite test in 2007, which produced over 2000 fragments large enough to catalogue. A rate of 300 objects per year is close to the lower assumed rate in the 1978 JGR paper. This average growth rate would predict the first collision between catalogued objects to have occurred around the year 2000, and it was assumed to be a catastrophic collision.

The lower growth rate of 320 objects per year in the 1978 paper predicted two collisions by 2009, both catastrophic. Although the actual number of collisions is too few to be statistically meaningful, they may indicate that the actual collision rate could be higher than predicted, but fewer are catastrophic. This higher collision rate would be consistent with the uncertainty in spacecraft area subject to collisions, as was noted in 1978. In 1991 and 2000 publications, the collision area was shown to be about 2.5 times greater than adopted in 1978. The 2000 publication also concluded that not all cataloged fragments were massive enough to cause a catastrophic collision…this would be especially true if the colliding fragment hit an antenna, stabilizer boom, or solar panel, or if the target were the empty tank of an upper stage. The presences of antennae, solar wings, and stabilizer booms were ignored in 1978, and obviously hitting one of these areas will only transfer a fraction of the impact energy to the entire spacecraft structure, reducing the likelihood of a catastrophic breakup. Also an impact into the empty fuel tank of an upper rocket stage may not transfer all the impact energy to the rocket body structure….again not causing a catastrophic breakup. We may have been lucky that only one of the four collisions since 1991 was catastrophic…or it may be that only one out of four of the collisions between catalogued objects will be catastrophic. The 1978 prediction of collision frequency becomes more consistent with the actual collision frequency by simply assuming that the area used in 1978 is the average catastrophic collision area, which was the intent of the paper. However, a more accurate understanding of both the non-catastrophic and catastrophic collision frequency is achieved by using data generated since 1978 in more accurate models currently used by the Orbital Debris Program Office.

Despite the absence of random catastrophic collisions, the predicted fluxes of smaller debris in 1990 and beyond in the JGR paper are not too different from what has been measured as a result of the orbital debris program. Accidental explosions and a few intentional collisions almost certainly contributed to the similarity…. and possibly some non-catastrophic collisions involving an un-catalogued object also contributed. However, the major contributors were a number of small debris sources that were discovered since 1978. Even though these sources have produced a debris environment in the past that is about the same as predicted from collisions, past debris sources are fundamentally different from future random collisions between catalogued objects. The past sources produce debris at a rate that is proportional to the number of objects in orbit, while the future frequency of collisions will produce debris at a rate that is proportional to the square of the number of objects in orbit. For example, if one were to double the number of upper stages and payloads in orbit, each having a probability that they would explode, then the rate that debris is generated by explosions would also double. However the rate that debris is generated by collisions between these objects would increase by a factor of four.

The 1978 prediction of a catastrophic collision between catalogued objects of 0.013 per year was based on a catalogue containing 3866 objects; today, the catalogue contains about 13,000 objects, or more than 3 times as many objects. This gives a collision rate that is more than 10 times what it was just over 30 years ago, or 0.13 per year….which is the same as one catastrophic collision between cataloged objects every 8 years….with the time between collisions rapidly becoming shorter as the catalog continues to grow. The larger fragments from either explosions or collisions will further accelerate the rate of collisions.

Most of the collisions in the 1978 paper were predicted to take place between 800 km and 1000 km altitude. That is even truer today. Not only is this region rapidly growing, certain altitudes contain a high concentrations of satellites, and the inclinations of their orbits are near polar, both conditions increasing the probability that they will collide, and do so with collision velocities that average more than 10 km/sec. We are entering a new era of debris control….an era that will be dominated by a slowly increasing number of random catastrophic collisions. These collisions will continue in the 800 km to 1000 km altitude regions, but will eventually spread to other regions. The control of future debris requires, at a minimum, that we not leave future payloads and rocket bodies in orbit after their useful life and might require that we plan launches to return some objects already in orbit.

These control measures will significantly increase the cost of debris control measures; but if we do not do them, we will increase the cost of future space activities even more. We might be tempted to put increasing amounts of shielding on all spacecraft to protect them and increase their life, or we might just accept shorter lifetimes for all spacecraft. However, neither option is acceptable: More shielding not only increases cost, but it also increases both the frequency of catastrophic collisions and the amount of debris generated when such a collision occurs. Accepting a shorter lifetime also increases cost, because it means that satellites must be replaced more often….with the failed satellites again increasing the catastrophic collision rate and producing larger amounts of debris.
Aggressive space activities without adequate safeguards could significantly shorten the time between collisions and produce an intolerable hazard to future spacecraft. Some of the most environmentally dangerous activities in space include large constellations such as those initially proposed by the Strategic Defense Initiative in the mid-1980s, large structures such as those considered in the late-1970s for building solar power stations in Earth orbit, and anti-satellite warfare using systems tested by the USSR, the U.S., and China over the past 30 years. Such aggressive activities could set up a situation where a single satellite failure could lead to cascading failures of many satellites in a period of time much shorter than years.

As is true for many environmental problems, the control of the orbital debris environment may initially be expensive, but failure to control leads to disaster in the long-term. Catastrophic collisions between catalogued objects in low Earth orbit are now an important environmental issue that will dominate the debris hazard to future spacecraft.


Satellites are usually insured against many different kinds of failure, beginning with their delivery to the launch pad, their ascent into orbit, and their in-orbit operation. For years, Joseph Allen and Daniel Wilkinson at NOAA’s Space Environment Center kept a master file of reported satellite anomalies from commercial and military sources. The collection included well over 9000 incidents reported up until the 1990’s. This voluntary flow of information dried-up rather suddenly in 1998 as one satellite owner after another stopped providing these reports.

The 23rd Cycle – Satellite Insurance
“Like any insurance policy the average home owner tries to get, you have to deal with a broker and negotiate a package of coverages. In low risk areas, you pay a low annual premium, but you can pay higher premiums if you are a poor driver, live on an earthquake fault, or own beach property subject to hurricane flooding.

In the satellite business, just about every aspect of manufacturing, launching and operating a satellite can be insured, at rates that depend on the level of riskiness. Typically for a given satellite, 10-15 large insurers (called underwriters) and 20-30 smaller ones may participate. There are about 13 international insurance underwriters that provide about 75% or so of the total annual capacity. Typically, the satellite insurance premiums are from 8-15% for risks associated with the launch itself. In-orbit policies tend to be about 1.2 to 1.5% per year for a planned 10-15 year life span once a satellite survives its shakeout period. If a satellite experiences environmental or technological problems in orbit during the initial shakeout period, the insurance premium paid by the satellite owner can jump to 3.5 – 3.7% for the duration of the satellite’s lifetime. This is the only avenue that insurers have currently agreed upon to protect themselves against the possibility of a complete satellite failure. Once an insurance policy is negotiated, the only way that an insurer can avoid paying out on the full cost of the satellite is in the event of war, a nuclear detonation, confiscation, electromagnetic interference or willful acts by the satellite owner that jeopardize the satellite.

There is no provision for ‘Acts of God’ such as solar storms or other environmental problems. Insurers assume that if a satellite is sensitive to space weather effects, this will show up in the reliability of the satellite, which would then cause the insurer to invoke the higher premium rates during the remaining life of the satellite. Insurers, currently, do not pay any attention to the solar cycle, but only assess risk based on the past history of the satellite’s technology.

As you can well imagine, the relationship between underwriters and the satellite industry is both complicated and at times volatile. Most of the time it can be characterized as cooperative because of the mutual interdependencies between underwriters and satellite owners. During bad years [like 1998 for example] underwriters can lose their hats and make hardly any profit from this calculated risk-taking. Over the long term, however, satellite insurance can be a stable source of revenue and profit, especially when the portion of their risk due to launch mishaps is factored out of the equation. As the Cox Report notes about all of this, “The satellite owner has every incentive to place the satellite in orbit and make it operational because obtaining an insurance settlement in the event of a loss does not help the owner continue to operate its telecommunications business in the future. To increase the client’s motivation to complete the project successfully, underwriters will also ask the client to retail a percentage [typically 20%] of the risk” [Cox Report, 1999]

According to Philippe-Alain Duflot, Director of the Commercial Division of AGF France,
“…the main space insurance players have built up long-term relations of trust with the main space industry players, which is to say the launch service providers, satellite manufacturers and operators. And these sustained relations are not going to be called into question on the account of a accident or series of unfortunate incidents”. Still, there are disputes that emerge which are now leading to significant changes in this relationship. Satellite owners, for instance, sometimes claim a complete loss on a satellite after it reaches orbit, even if a sizable fraction of its operating capacity remains intact after a ‘glitch’. According to Peter D. Nesgos of the New York law firm Winthrop, Stimson, Putnam and Roberts as quoted by Space News, “In more than a dozen recent cases, anomalies have occurred on satellites whose operators say they can no longer fulfill their business plans, even though part of the satellite’s capacity can still be used.”

This has caused insurance brokers to rethink how they write their policies, and for insurance underwriters to insist on provisions for partial salvage of the satellite. In 1995, the Koreasat-1 telecommunications satellite owned by Korea Telecom of South Korea triggered just such a dispute. In a more recent dispute underwriters actually sued a satellite manufacturer Spar Aerospace of Mississauga, Canada over the AMSC-1 satellite, demanding a full reimbursment of $135 million. They allege that the manufacturer ‘covered up test data that showed a Spar-built component was defective’. Some insurers are beginning to balk at vague language which seemingly gives satellite owners a blank check to force underwriters to insure just about anything the owners wish to insist on.

One obvious reason why satellite owners are openly adverse to admitting that space weather is a factor, is that it can jeopardize reliability estimates for their technology, and thus impact the negotiation between owner and underwriter. If the underwriter deems your satellite poorly designed to mitigate against radiation damage or other impulsive space weather events, they may elect to levy a higher premium rate during the in-orbit phase of the policy. They may also offer you a ‘launch plus five year’ rather than a ‘launch plus one year’ shakeout period. This issue is becoming a volatile one. A growing number of stories in the trade journals since 1997 report that insurance companies are growing increasingly vexed by what they see as a decline in manufacturing techniques and quality control. In a rush to make satellites lighter and more sophisticated, owners such as Iridium LLC are willing to loose six satellites per year. What usually isn’t mentioned is that they also request payment from their satellite insurance policy on these losses, and the underwriters then have to pay out tens of millions of dollars per satellite. In essence, the underwriter is forced to pay the owner for using risky satellite designs, even though this works against the whole idea of an underwriter charging higher rates for known risk factors. Of course, when the terms of the policy are negotiated, underwriters are fully aware of this planned risk and failure rate, but are willing to accept this risk in order to profit from the other less risky elements of the agreement. It is hard to turn-down a five year policy on a $4 billion network that will only cost them a few hundred million in eventual payouts. The fact is that insurers will insure just about anything that commercial satellite owners can put in orbit, so long as the owners are willing to pay the higher premiums. Space weather enters the equation because, at least publicly, it is a wild card that underwriters have not fully taken into consideration. They seemingly charge the same in-orbit rates (1.2 to 3.7%) regardless of which portion of the solar cycle we are in.

More and more often, satellite insurance companies are finding themselves in the position of paying-out claims, but not for the very familiar risk of launching the satellite with a particular rocket. In the past, the biggest liability was in launch vehicle failures, not in satellite technology. As more satellites have been placed in orbit successfully, a new body of insurance claims has also grown at an unexpected rate. According to Jeffrey Cassidy, senior vice president of the aerospace division of A.C.E. Insurance Company Ltd., as many as 11 satellites during 1996 have had insured losses during their first year of operation. The identities of these satellites, however, were not divulged nor even the names of their owners.

Despite the rough times that both manufacturers and insurers seem to be having, they are both grimly determined to continue their investments. Assicurazioni Generali, S.p.A of Triests, the biggest underwriter has no plans to reduce its participation in space coverage, but at the same time thinks very poorly of the satellite manufacturing process itself. Giovanni Gobbo, Assicurazioni’s space department manager, is quoted as saying “I would not buy a household appliance that had as many reliability problems as today’s satellites”. The biggest pay out in 1998 was for $254 million for 12 satellites in the Iridium program; five were destroyed at launch.

Despite all the dramatic failures, the satellite insurance companies have actually lowered their insurance rates for launches from 15-16% in 1996 to 12-13% in 1997. Meanwhile, in-orbit insurance rates, the kind affected by space weather problems, have remained at 1-2% per year of the total replacement cost. Industry insiders do not expect this pricing to remain so inexpensive. With more satellite failures expected in the next few years, these rates may increase dramatically.

The nearly $600 million in in-orbit satellite failures that insurance companies have had to pay on in 1998 alone, has prompted questions of whether spacecraft builders are cutting costs in some important way to increase profit margins especially with the number of satellite anomalies continuing to rise. Between 1995 and 1997, insurance companies paid out 38% of the $900 million in claims, just for on-orbit satellite difficulties. Since the early 1980’s, satellite failure claims have doubled in number, from $200 to $400 million annually. The satellite manufacturers argue that compared to the number of satellites launched and functioning normally, the percentage of anomalies and failures has remained nearly the same over the last two decades. Hughes Space and Communications, for example, has 67 satellites and there has been no percentage change in the failure rate. They use this to support the idea that the problems with satellite failures are inherent to the technology, not the satellite environment that changes with the solar cycle. According to Michael Houterman, president of Hughes Space and Communications International, Inc of Los Angeles, the spate of failures in the HS-601 satellites is a result of ‘design defects’ not of production-schedule pressure or poor workmanship: “Most of our quality problems can be traced back to component design defects. We need, and are working toward, more discipline in our design process so that we can ensure higher rates [of reliability]”.

Satellite analyst Timothy Logue at the Washington law firm of Coudert Brothers begs to differ: “The commercial satellite manufacturing industry went to a better, faster, cheaper approach, and it looks like reliability has suffered a bit, at least in the short term”. Curiously absent from virtually every communications satellite report of a problem, is the simple acknowledgment that space is not a benign environment for satellites. The bottom line in all of this is that communications technology has expanded its beachhead in near-earth space to include thousands of satellites. These complex systems seem to be remarkably robust, although for many of them that may be in the wrong place at the wrong time, their failure in orbit can be tied to solar storm events. The data, however, is sparse and circumstantial because we can never retrieve the satellites to determine what actually affected them. Satellite manufacturers often look for technological problems to explain why satellites fail, while scientists look at the spacecraft’s environment in space to find triggering events. What seems to be frustrating to the satellite manufacturing industry is that, when in-orbit malfunctions occur, each one seems to be unique. The manufacturers can find no obvious pattern to them. Like a tornado entering a trailer park, when space weather effects present themselves in complex ways across a trillion cubic miles of space, some satellites can be affected while others remain intact.

For years, Joseph Allen and Daniel Wilkinson at NOAA’s Space Environment Center kept a master file of reported satellite anomalies from commercial and military sources. The collection included well over 9000 incidents reported up until the 1990’s. This voluntary flow of information dried-up rather suddenly in 1998 as one satellite owner after another stopped providing these reports. From now on, access to information about satellite problems during Cycle 23 would be nearly impossible to obtain for scientific research. More than ever, examples of satellite problems would have to come from the occasional reports in the open trade literature, and these would only cover the most severe, and infrequent, full outages. There would be no easy record of the far more numerous daily and weekly mishaps, which had been the pattern implied by the frequency of these anomalies in the past.

2004 – Commercial Satellite Bus Reliability’ – Frost & Sullivan has analyzed the on-orbit performance of the major commercially available satellite buses and considered the strengths and weaknesses of their manufacturers in order to determine which satellite bus (or platform) is more reliable. Based on both Frost & Sullivan and Airclaims data, this study highlights reliability records, anomaly trends, and the impact of these factors on the insurance industry and hence, the satellite industry overall….In terms of satellite insurance claims, the period from 1998 through 2001 was particularly bad. The unusually high number of satellite anomalies and resulting insurance claims have seriously affected both the quality and reliability of services provided by commercial satellite operators and have (along with notable launch vehicle failures) had a negative impact on investors’ perceptions of the space industry as a whole. Beyond that, such problems have resulted in billions of dollars of losses for space insurance underwriters, increasing space insurance premium rates and hence the cost of ownership for commercial communications satellites in general. Although the last two years have seen a reduction in the number of serious anomalies the affects of the 1998-2001 period remain. Insurance costs have risen considerably and attitudes towards satellites and their manufacturers have changed. Before 1998 the satellite industry and its customers were moving toward a vision of satellites as a commodity. Satellites were expected to function well and new technologies to expand their capabilities were embraced. Satellite manufacturers built new manufacturing facilities and anticipated ever-increasing orders. This vision proved faulty when the new technologies showed flaws once in service and previously reliable satellites began to develop problems as well. The large market for satellites that had motivated the more production-orientated manufacturing techniques failed to appear and the commodity model of satellite manufacturing has now generally been abandoned. [Report from Frost & Sullivan]

2000 – Insurance industry funds new research into satellite failures” – The space insurance industry and the TSUNAMI initiative has put up £120,000 into two one-year research projects examining the role of space weather in satellite failures. Scientists from Mullard Space Science Laboratory and British Antarctic Survey (BAS) will attempt to match known violent space weather events with satellite failures using data from the space and from the ground. MSSL will also develop a spacecraft ‘black box’ to measure the amount of exposure to ‘killer’ electrons from the Sun. Space weather has been blamed for satellite failures that have cost the insurance industry billions of pounds. Solar conditions drive the space weather environment near Earth. Explosions on the Sun send gigawatts of energy hurtling towards Earth via the solar wind, causing space storms around Earth. This activity increases when the solar cycle reaches its peak every 11 years. This year sees the peak, making the studies even more urgent. Both projects will help space insurers minimize losses and set premiums. T he research funds are awarded by the Tsunami consortium, a group of scientists and insurers that was formed to stimulate new research proposals to improve understanding of natural hazards specifically to meet the needs of the industry. ” [BAS Press Release]

Lloyd’s Consortium Forms New Facility for Satellite Insurance / January 20, 2006

A consortium of Lloyd’s underwriters has formed a new facility for satellite insurance that will “enable the most accurate pricing of risks the sector has ever seen,” said an announcement on the Lloyd’s Website (www.lloyd’ The consortium is adopting a new approach that will combine the market’s underwriting expertise with detailed intelligence on the reliability of satellites and their components. Liberty Syndicates formed the new venture in partnership with Sciemus, and will provide up to $400 million of insurance capacity for the sector. The facility is expected to create savings of more than $10 million a year for some satellite operators while enhancing insurers’ returns. The bulletin said the “consortium will provide a one-stop shop for coverage using data from a 40 year study carried out by the Ministry of Defense. The research will enable the consortium to individually tailor accurate prices according to the specific risk profile of each operator.”

The new approach is designed to eliminate the “fragmented” market for satellite coverage. Notably it “involves the broker agreeing to terms with a string of underwriters.” The announcement explained that the “lack of data surrounding the risks associated with satellite launches meant there was a blanket rate for coverage.” Jeffrey Wright, director of reinsurance at HSBC Insurance Brokers, one of the select few brokers with access to the capacity, observed that the approach was ground breaking. “It will revolutionize the approach and the underwriting of satellite risks. This is not about offering cheap insurance. It is about rewarding the best companies in the business with premiums, which reflect the risk. It brings accuracy and market leading technology and information to a sector which requires it.” The bulletin also explained: “Despite some high profile losses in the past, the Space industry has grown to an estimated capacity of $490 million for launch risks and $310 million for in-orbit risks for 2006. Insurance costs are often an operator’s second largest cost.”

Liberty Syndicates’ chief executive Sean Dalton commented: “This represents the largest single source of new capacity made to the industry, which hitherto has suffered from an inability to differentiate between good and bad operators. The model will enable differentiation between good and bad risks within the satellite sector, and price to reflect this. Operators will be able to see the benefit in terms of significant cost savings and certainty. “The model will also enable contract certainty and facilitate claims resolutions, an area that has caused all parties difficulties in the past due to imbalances in knowledge and desired outcomes,” he concluded.

The Great Brazilian Sat-Hack Crackdown
BY Marcelo Soares  /  04.20.09
Brazilian satellite hackers use high-performance antennas and homebrew gear to turn U.S. Navy satellites into their personal CB radios

Campinas, Brazil — On the night of March 8, cruising 22,000 miles above the Earth, U.S. Navy communications satellite FLTSAT-8 suddenly erupted with illicit activity. Jubilant voices and anthems crowded the channel on a junkyard’s worth of homemade gear from across vast and silent stretches of the Amazon: Ronaldo, a Brazilian soccer idol, had just scored his first goal with the Corinthians. It was a party that won’t soon be forgotten. Ten days later, Brazilian Federal Police swooped in on 39 suspects in six states in the largest crackdown to date on a growing problem here: illegal hijacking of U.S. military satellite transponders. “This had been happening for more than five years,” says Celso Campos, of the Brazilian Federal Police. “Since the communication channel was open, not encrypted, lots of people used it to talk to each other.”

The practice is so entrenched, and the knowledge and tools so widely available, few believe the campaign to stamp it out will be quick or easy. Much of this country’s geography is remote, and beyond the reach of cellphone coverage, making American satellites an ideal, if illegal, communications option. The problem goes back more than a decade, to the mid-1990s, when Brazilian radio technicians discovered they could jump on the UHF frequencies dedicated to satellites in the Navy’s Fleet Satellite Communication system, or FLTSATCOM. They’ve been at it ever since. Truck drivers love the birds because they provide better range and sound than ham radios. Rogue loggers in the Amazon use the satellites to transmit coded warnings when authorities threaten to close in. Drug dealers and organized criminal factions use them to coordinate operations. Today, the satellites, which pirates called “Bolinha” or “little ball,” are a national phenomenon. “It’s impossible not to find equipment like this when we catch an organized crime gang,” says a police officer involved in last month’s action. The crackdown, called “Operation Satellite,” was Brazil’s first large-scale enforcement against the problem. Police followed coordinates provided by the U.S. Department of Defense and confirmed by Anatel, Brazil’s FCC. Among those charged were university professors, electricians, truckers and farmers, the police say. The suspects face up to four years and jail, but are more likely to be fined if convicted.

First lofted into orbit in the 1970s, the FLTSATCOM bird was at the time a major advance in military communications. Their 23 channels were used by every branch of the U.S. armed forces and the White House for encrypted data and voice, typically from portable ground units that could be quickly unpacked and put to use on the battlefield. As the original FLTSAT constellation of four satellites fell out of service, the Navy launched a more advanced UFO satellite (for Ultra High Frequency Follow-On) to replace them. Today, there are two FLTSAT and eight UFO birds in geosynchronous orbit. Navy contractors are working on a next-generation system called Mobile User Objective System beginning in September 2009.

Until then, the military is still using aging FLTSAT and UFO satellites — and so are a lot of Brazilians. While the technology on the transponders still dates from the 1970s, radio sets back on Earth have only improved and plummeted in cost — opening a cheap, efficient and illegal backdoor. To use the satellite, pirates typically take an ordinary ham radio transmitter, which operates in the 144- to 148-MHZ range, and add a frequency doubler cobbled from coils and a varactor diode. That lets the radio stretch into the lower end of FLTSATCOM’s 292- to 317-MHz uplink range. All the gear can be bought near any truck stop for less than $500. Ads on specialized websites offer to perform the conversion for less than $100. Taught the ropes, even rough electricians can make Bolinha-ware. “I saw it more than once in truck repair shops,” says amateur radio operator Adinei Brochi (PY2ADN) “Nearly illiterate men rigged a radio in less than one minute, rolling wire on a coil.”

Brochi, who assembled his first radio set from spare parts at 12, has been tracking the Brazilian satellite hacking problem for years. Brochi says the Pentagon’s concerns are obvious. “If a soldier is shot in an ambush, the first thing he will think of doing will be to send a help request over the radio,” observes Brochi. “What if he’s trying to call for help and two truckers are discussing soccer? In an emergency, that soldier won’t be able to remember quickly how to change the radio programming to look for a frequency that’s not saturated.”

When real criminals use these frequencies, it’s easy to tell they’re hiding something, but it’s nearly impossible to know what it is. In one intercepted conversation posted to YouTube, a man alerts a friend that he should watch out, because things are getting “crispy” and “strong winds” are on their way. Sometimes loggers refer to the approach of authorities by saying, “Santa Claus is coming,” says Brochi. When the user’s location is stable, the signal can be triangulated. That’s how the Defense Department got the coordinates to feed Brazilian authorities in March’s raids.

While Brazil may be the world capital of FLTSATCOM hijacking, there have been cases in other countries — even in the United States. In February of last year, FCC investigators used a mobile direction-finding vehicle to trace rogue transmissions to a Brazilian immigrant in New Jersey. When the investigators inspected his radio gear, they found a transceiver programmed to a FLTSAT frequency, connected to an antenna in the back of his house. Joaquim Barbosa was hit with a $20,000 fine. A technician with Anatel, speaking on condition of anonymity, says the chief problem with ending the satellite abuse in this country is that U.S. and Brazilian authorities simply waited too long to start. Thousands of users are believed to have the know-how to use the system. After a bust, the airwaves always go quiet for a while, but the hijackers always return.

One week after the “Operation Satellite,” Brochi met with at a gathering of amateur radio enthusiasts in a bucolic square in Campinas, about 60 miles north of Sao Paulo. Brochi switches on his UHF receiver and scans through the satellite frequencies. It’s relatively quiet now on the satellite underground, except for the static-like sound of encrypted military traffic. But eventually, a lone creaky voice cuts through. It’s a man in Porto Velho, the capital of Rondônia, a day’s drive north into the upper Amazon basin. He’s making small talk with a friend in Portuguese. The satellite pirates are creeping back on the air.

FLTSATCOM  (Fleet Satellite Communications System)



BOLINHA TECH  (poorly auto-translated from Portuguese)

“Satellites commonly known in Brazil as “Bolinha”, are geostationary American military satellites known as FleetSatCom or UHF SatCom. These satellites were developed by RCA American Communications (RCA Americom) and were launched between 1975 and 1992. From 1986, they became controlled by General Electric American Communications (GE Americom) and from 2001 by SES Americom.

Contrary to what many think, these satellites are not “abandoned”, and are still very active, with intensive use. Most official communications are made in encrypted digital modes; there is minimum official activities in analog mode (AM, FM, SSB). In August 2007, the space shuttle Endeavor used the rate of 259,700 in AM. There are British, Italian and Russian military satellites (called Gonets) also in the band.

Information on the SatCom in Wikipedia:

Recent examples of audio from such satellites can be seen on the page:

Manual of military operations of SatCom,  2004 edition

official SatCom, defined by the standard MIL-STD-188-181 / A and B:

An excellent explanation given by Mr Roland Zurmely in February 2008: “For a geostationary satellite, one of the mandatory parameters is that it is on the equator.”

“The Clarke Belt”, the only place where geostationary satellites may be, is already almost all busy! Theoretically, each satellite GSO should be a “box” of 0.1 x 0.1 degrees, and as the belt is 360 degrees, there is room for only 3600 GSO satellites! Already has more than 1500 seating! It is for this reason that many are up in Brazil, as the Clarke belt is at the equator! Old satellites MUST be removed from the belt and are normally placed in inclined orbit with respect to GSO to give the “box” to a new GSO satellite. See more here:

Many illegal users of satellites are linked to organized crime, especially drug trafficking. Some key words or subjects are used to mask orders, delivery notes or scheduling of meetings. Most of the use of these segments in the range of 250 MHz using transmission has originated in the Brazilian Amazon, or in the southern part of Colombia. However, due to the “meddling” of camioneiros [truckdrivers?], sawmills and traders common in the region, who also started to use this as “cheap” radio, organized crime is migrating most of their communications for military satellites in geostationary band of 6 GHz. The use of such satellites is illegal (Article 183 of Law 9472/97). The U.S. military held a triangulation of signals with high emission accuracy and passed the data to Brazilian authorities, which has made dozens of seizures in this direction.

In São Paulo, transmission equipment for the “Bolinha Sat” (for his great most transverters for use with VHF) were learned with almost all the great “leadership” of the CCP who were arrested in the last two years. Moreover, two radio amateurs “manufacturers” of transverters to Sat Bolinha were arrested for provide equipment and technology to the criminal faction (they knew what were doing and what to use).

By the year 2006 there were two lists of discussion in Brazil on the SatCom Yahoo groups. After an operation of seizures triggered by authorities Brazil, with support of the U.S. military intelligence, the lists were closed, and before the arrests made, many arrived to dismantle their equipment and to remove their antennas.

So if you have equipment that can send this track, taking full care! Do not fall into the “temptation” to make any contact, because the consequences can be very serious, difficult and complicated! However, listening to radio broadcasts is not a crime, and for those who have interest in only “owl” these frequencies, here are some interesting links on the SatCom:

For those who are interested in “owl” the frequencies of SatCom but have no equipment, a cheap option is mounting a converter for use in a radio or scanner for VHF. Page of Luciano Sturaro, PY2BBS has the outline of a converter for the 220 MHz band, but it works very well at 260 MHz: (projects – converter to 220 MHz)

For those who already have coverage in the range receiver with 250 to 260 MHz, here is a diagram of antenna:

I have obtained good results in the reception of signals from the satellites using a SatCom receptor IC-R10 receiver with a small Yagi for 6 elements (diagram on the link above) but if we use more than one meter of cable, the signal degrades. A solution is to use the antenna “on hand” even with the smallest possible length of cable coaxial!

To facilitate the location of the satellite with a directional antenna, leave the receiver in frequency of 244,125 MHz, where there is a beacon, or 250,550 MHz, where there is a sign of continuous telemetry.

And to optimize the reception of insensitive receptors, such as receipt of HTS extended, where the range of 260 MHz is not very sensitive or even low selectivity, may be the use of pre-low-noise amplifier (LNA). Here is the diagram of a good pre-amp for this track:

Good listening!
Adinei , PY2ADN
py2adn [arroba] [dot] br “


DIY satellites take smaller and smaller steps for mankind
Surrey team launches fridge-sized modules and helps keep Britain in
the space race
BY Mark Milner  /  July 7, 2008

Some time this month an intercontinental ballistic missile will blast
off from its silo from beneath the ground in deepest Kazakhstan. It
will not, however, be carrying the nuclear warhead it was designed to
deliver. Instead the payload will include five small satellites
designed and built amid the neatly clipped lawns and ornamental lakes
of the University of Surrey, almost within the shadow of Guildford

The satellites are each the size of a normal fridge. Once they break
away from the ex-Soviet rocket the five will form a constellation but
their purpose is far from astrophysical. When they swing into action
they will beam back pictures of the Earth – capable of collecting,
among other things, evidence of agricultural fraud, illegal oil
dumping, the impact of natural disasters and likely deposits of
minerals. They are the latest in a series of satellites of increasing
sophistication which have been built by Surrey Satellite Technology
Ltd, until recently part of Surrey University and the brainchild of a
team led by the company’s chief executive, Professor Sir Martin

The company’s origins lie in the mid-1970s, a period preceded by the
US Apollo programme and Arthur C Clarke’s 2001. Sweeting, at that time
working on his PhD, was interested in communications. Fellow radio
enthusiasts were building equipment to listen in to Russian and US
weather satellites. Sweeting recalls wanting to join in. “I wanted to
get into space. I did not particularly want to go to the US with Nasa,
ESA [the European Space Agency] was only just getting going and the
British space programme was faltering.” Sweeting and a tiny group
decided the answer was to build their own satellite. At the time
satellites were normally the size of a double decker bus which meant
they were hardly suitable for building in the garage and launching
from the back lawn.

Help, however, was at hand as electronics – from computers to consumer
gadgets – were getting that shrinking feeling. “It was just at the
time technology allowed us to scale down,” according to Sweeting.
Size, or rather the lack of it, was to become SSTL’s trade mark. Its
satellites would be smaller, cheaper and quicker to build.

Satellite on a chip
According to SSTL, a large satellite might weigh more than 1,000kg,
cost $500m and take years to develop. One of its micro-satellites, by
comparison, would weigh 100kg, cost $10m and take 18 months to put
together. The drive to get ever smaller continues. More than a decade
ago work started on developing a satellite the size of a football.
That looks positively Brobdingnagian compared with the coffee mug-
sized affairs being worked on by the university’s satellites centre –
a close ally of SSTL – though the holy grail is a satellite on a chip.

Today, SSTL’s client base includes the Ministry of Defence, the
European Space Agency and a number of governments in Africa and Asia.
Back then, however, the world at large was not much impressed by the
Sweeting vision. “This was in 1978-79. People thought we were pretty
crazy. They said it would not be possible and even if it was it
wouldn’t be useful. And they were the polite ones.”

Sweeting nevertheless decided he would try to build his satellite and,
if it didn’t work, he could follow the advice most commonly proffered
and get a proper job later. “I wanted to do it because I was
interested not because I saw it as a business.” That might appear a
cavalier approach from someone whose professional life was already
firmly rooted in academia though about to branch out into business,
but not, perhaps, from someone whose father was a poet and his mother
an artist. Sweeting and his team – four full-timers, eight part-
timers, and lots of helpers – did manage to beg or borrow the funds
and the equipment to built their first satellite. More to the point,
they somehow managed to persuade Nasa that their tiddler could
piggyback on an American launch vehicle. Apparently it was classed as
ballast. So, in 1981 UoSat-1 went into orbit.

Pulled plug
Whether there would be a second was more problematical. The then prime
minister, Margaret Thatcher, had pulled the plug on funding for
Britain’s space programme, which meant that there was little chance of
public money for a new venture. Sweeting recalls going for a prestige
job, being offered the post and then turning it down to pursue his
dream of becoming an urbane spaceman. The main factor was again the
Americans. Nasa came along and offered another launch slot. But this
time it wanted money – £10,000. One small snip for Nasa but a giant
step for Sweeting and Surrey.

Nevertheless, they went ahead. The company was set up with four people
and £100. “I borrowed my share, I think,” says Sweeting. The
university also gave its backing but Sweeting acknowledges there was
an element of “cottage industry” about it. The US had set a tight
deadline for the British to come up with a new satellite. “We worked
all the hours there were, we begged and borrowed. The first clean room
came from B&Q; wood, polythene sheeting and a vacuum cleaner. It made
a cleanish room.”

There were other elements of Heath Robinson, as Sweeting’s long-
standing collaborator Dr Craig Underwood recalls. One early satellite
had parts taken from a children’s toy called Speak and Spell. Always
the pressure was to keep down the size, to keep down weight and to
keep down costs. The university helped with funds in exchange for a
very substantial stake, which has varied over the years between around
85% and 95%. The company, too, has retained very close links with the
university’s Space Centre, enabling both to benefit from the synergies
between academia and the commercial world. The fact that Sweeting is
chief executive of the former and a director of the latter has clearly
not hindered the maintenance of close links.

Profits taken
The university recently decided to sell out to Astrium, the space arm
of EADS, one of Europe’s premier defence contractors as well as the
owner of planemaker Airbus. Sweeting is happy with the deal. It is
time, he says, for the university to take the profits on its
investment. “Over the last four or five years we have been growing at
20% year on year. It has got to the stage where this is a £40m-a-year
turnover company. It is quite clear the university does not have the
financial resources to allow us to grow and should be putting the
money back into its educational activities. It was a question of
finding the right time and the right partner.” Nevertheless, Sweeting
is adamant the close links between SSTL and the Space Centre will
remain and says Astrium is encouraging the company to pursue “business
as usual” and indeed is happy to see SSTL compete with other parts of
the parent’s space business.

But should Britain become involved in the blue riband of space travel,
manned flight? “We are a small country and we don’t have the resources
to make a significant impact,” Sweeting says. However, he insists
that, while the UK may not be able to finance its own independent
manned programme, it should seek to get involved with those who are
pressing ahead. “You don’t have to have your own manned programme. You
can contribute through infrastructure projects.” SSTL, for example, is
currently working on two projects in relation to future moon
exploration. The key is to ensure that Britain “has a seat at the

Cosmic numbers
$10m The cost, according to SSTL, of manufacturing a micro-satellite
1981 The year that Nasa launched Sweeting’s first satellite, the
£100 The initial investment made by Sweeting and three colleagues
£40m The annual turnover for SSTL – a 20% rise year on year



“Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL) has been sending small
satellites into space longer, more successfully and more economically
than anyone else in the world. We have built our reputation as the
world’s premier provider of small satellite missions over 27 years. We
launched our first satellite in partnership with NASA in 1981. Since
then our global business has reached across 5 continents. We have
launched 27 missions – more than anyone else in the small satellite
industry. We specialise in designing, building and launching small
satellites quickly and cost-effectively, making space accessible and

Changing the economics of space
We first changed the economics of space in the late 1970s when we
pioneered ‘commercial off the shelf’ (COTS) satellite technology. This
process took standard consumer technology, such as those used in
personal computers, and adapted them to the unique environment of
space. Until then, satellite equipment was purpose-built for space
travel, at huge expense and taking many years, with the result that
the technology was obsolete by the time of launch.

Our capability
We can build and launch a satellite for any payload under 1,000
kilograms. Every SSTL customer will be offered a spacecraft solution
designed for their needs. In fact, we believe that we are at our best
when given the flexibility to advise customers on a complete solution.
Whilst we mostly supply both the satellite and payload for our
customers, we also undertake to integrate a customer supplied payload
within an SSTL-built platform.

Our customers have used our expert knowledge and in-house capabilities
to produce satellites for:
* Earth observation and imaging
* Securing the Galileo satellite navigation frequencies
* Scientific research
* Military/defence purposes
* Technology demonstration (testing an instrument in space)
With the acquisition of SIRA Electro-Optics in 2006, SSTL’s in-house
optical engineers are producing some of the world’s most sophisticated
cameras and visual technology for customers’ satellites.

The complete satellite lifecycle
We can develop satellites throughout their life cycle – from design
and build through to launch and in-orbit monitoring and maintenance –
or any stage of that cycle. For customers who want to monitor and
maintain their own satellites, we set up their ground station and
train their in-house team. We are able to offer our customers such
flexibility because we design, build, assemble and test our satellites
and almost all their components in-house.”

Martin Sweeting
email : m.sweeting [at] [dot] uk

Craig Underwood
email : c.underwood [at] [dot] uk

“The SSTL story is a showcase of British ingenuity, ambition and
engineering expertise. In the mid-1970s a group of highly skilled
aerospace researchers were working in the Electrical Engineering
Department of the University of Surrey. At the time, space exploration
was something only countries with enormous aerospace budgets, such as
the US and the (then) Soviet Union, could dream about.

Space exploration had been bought somewhat closer when the first man
had set foot on the moon less than a decade earlier, but it was still
far out of reach for most countries. The belief at the time was that
space was such a different environment to Earth that anything sent
into the atmosphere needed to be specially designed for the harsh
conditions of space. Naturally, this made building satellites
incredibly expensive and time-intensive.

Researchers at Surrey believed it could be done more quickly and much
cheaper. They knew that it took up to 15 years to create and test this
space-specific technology, by which time it was often obsolete. “The
consumer market was leading the way in technology investment by then,”
says Sir Martin Sweeting, one of the original researchers and now
Chairman of SSTL. “New computers, mobile phones and DVDs were being
created all the time. Imagine anyone wanting to use a 15 year old PC
these days.”

They decided to experiment by creating a satellite using standard
consumer technology, known as ‘commercial off the shelf’ (COTS)
components. The results were surprising. “There’s no question that
space travel makes for a very bumpy ride. But we tested every
component of the satellite in a specially designed chamber that
replicated the space environment. The chamber exposed everything to
high and low temperatures, high speeds and movement. Everything still
worked afterwards and we still test all our satellite equipment in the
same way,” Sir Martin says.

That first satellite, UoSAT-1 (University of Surrey satellite) was
launched in 1981 with the help of NASA, who had become very interested
in the group’s work. The mission was a great success, outliving its
planned three-year life by more than five years. Most importantly, the
team showed that relatively small and inexpensive satellites could be
built rapidly to perform successful, sophisticated missions. To prove
it, UoSAT-2 was built in in just six months and launched in 1984.

In 1985, the University formed Surrey Satellite Technology Limited
(SSTL) as a spin-out company to transfer the results of its research
into a commercial enterprise able to remain at the forefront of
satellite innovation. Despite the Challenger disaster of 1986
seriously damaging the world’s appetite for space exploration, within
10 years SSTL had launched eight satellites for various governments
and businesses.

The growth in company size and the capability delivered to our
customers has continued to accelerate. Today SSTL employs almost 300
staff, has launched 27 spacecraft, with 14 more under manufacture, and
is delivering missions that provide ciritical and valuable services to
customers across the globe.”

How to build space satellites out of iPods
By Malcolm Moore and Roger Highfield  /  29/12/2005

A company formed by a small team of boffins in Guildford yesterday
launched the first Galileo satellite, beating a rival consortium of
three of Europe’s technology giants. As the rest of the country tucked
into leftovers, the scientists at Surrey Satellite Technology (SSTL)
celebrated the launch of Giove-A from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in
Kazakhstan. SSTL has now launched 26 satellites successfully, and
expects to have a turnover of £30m this year, with pre-tax profits of
around £1.5m. The company has grown by 25pc a year since it was spun
out of Surrey University in 1985. Yesterday, Sir Martin Sweeting, the
chief executive, said the company’s small size had helped it vault
ahead of Alcatel, EADS and Thales, who have formed a consortium to
provide infrastructure for the £2.5billion Galileo project.

The consortium, Galileo Industries, originally tendered at five times
the price quoted by SSTL, but their satellite is still in testing and
not expected to launch until mid-2006. “We specifically make low-cost
and quick satellites,” he said. Giove-A, which weighs 600kg, has gone
from drawing board to launch in 30 months. “What we do is to take
advantage of terrestrial technologies, such as mobile phones and DVD
players. The consumer market has been leading the investment in
technology. “We take these components out of iPods and so on, and work
out whether we can fly them in our spacecraft. Sometimes they will,
and sometimes they will not.” Sir Martin said conventional components
can take up to 15 years to test, by which time they may be obsolete.
“Imagine if you bought a PC that was 15 years old.”

Turning gadgets into satellites became a necessary way of doing
business after Lady Thatcher cancelled the national space programme in
1987, he added. “We realised that there was no money in the UK and we
had better set up a company to sell our wares and live by our wits. It
is very easy to spend other people’s money. If you spend money you
earn yourself you tend to be a lot more innovative and it lasts
longer.” The group’s success will give the European Space Agency a
headache, as it tries to decide who will make the 30 satellites which
will eventually orbit under the Galileo banner.

The project, which has been described as “the biggest, whitest
elephant ever to become weightless” will create an alternative
navigation system to the American GPS technology. Eventually, drivers
will be able to switch between the two. The Galileo Industries
consortium has been embarrassed by both the speed and the economy of
SSTL, but thanks to European politics, the giants are still likely to
win the lion’s share of the future contracts.

SSTL will not be building the next four Galileo satellites, but will
tender for some of the others. If it is successful, the project could
transform the size of the company and attract hundreds of millions of
pounds of investment. “What we have got to keep in mind is that we do
not lose what makes us successful. We are quite small, at 200 staff,
and clean and lean. We do not want to become like a large elephant,”
said Sir Martin. He added that managing the company’s current growth
spurt was “difficult”.

However, he is considering a change in the ownership of the group in
order to reduce the 80pc stake held by Surrey University. The rest of
SSTL is half owned by the staff, and half by SpaceX, a US rocket-
maker. SpaceX is the latest venture by Elon Musk, the entrepreneur who
sold his PayPal internet payment technology to Ebay for $1.5billion.
Sir Martin said he may consider a public offering, but investors may
not be brave enough to snap up shares in SSTL. “Space is a very risky
business. We’ve launched 26 satellites and not lost any of them, but
the odds are against us. The markets would probably be very nervous
about that,” he said.

SSTL is also active in providing satellites that map the earth’s
terrain. One set of satellites, called the Disaster Monitoring
Constellation, is designed to help co-ordinate aid efforts in the wake
of calamities such as the Asian tsunami. However, the initiative has
raised eyebrows in the US, which complains that SSTL is passing
satellite-building secrets to the Chinese, who have two probes in the
Constellation. Sir Martin dismisses the charge. “There are concerns
with parts of the US who see their space superiority being eroded by
the Chinese and others. There is no real technology that is being
transferred. We are teaching them how to build satellites, but the
technology is already available.” Nevertheless, for SSTL to be on the
radar when it comes to the likes of NASA, the upstart boffins in
Guildford must be on their way up.”

“SSTL satellites are baselined from previous missions and tailored to
individual customer requirements. The design and manufacture of all
these elements is undertaken in-house. SSTL follows a heritage based
design and implementation approach while at the same time providing
performance matched to the mission requirements. Tried and tested
units are flown alongside innovative, cutting edge units to provide
the customer with the optimal mission solution, providing a reliable
spacecraft that is a high performance solution. In line with its
heritage based approach, SSTL system product line revolves around a
set of highly customisable “platforms”. Inherent modularity in the
design means that these can satisfy almost any mission requirement.”

Used in the highly successful Disaster Monitoring Constellation (DMC)
which has achieved more than 10 years in-orbit heritage. The SSTL 100
provides the core capability to carry a wide range of payloads. Active
variants include SSTL 100i 32 (1st generation DMC) and SSTL 100i 22
(2nd generation DMC).

An enhanced version of the SSTL 100 platform with substantially
improved payload capacity, improved propulsion and added high attitude
agility. It is ideally suited for use of customer supplied payloads
given its straightforward interface scheme. Active variants include
SSTL 150i 4 Agile (Beijing-1),SSTL 150i 2.5 Agile and SSTL 150

The natural evolution of the SSTL 150 platform, designed for highly
demanding applications. Very flexible configuration, capable of
supporting a large spectrum of implementations, payloads and
structural configurations. Current variants are optimised for optical
EO (from 2.5m to sub 1m resolutions), SAR and science EO payloads.
Active variants include SSTL 300i 2.5 Agile, SSTL 300i 1.0 Agile, SSTL
300i UHR, SSTL 300L and SSTL 300r.

Versatile, low cost communications, navigation and exploration
platform. The SSTL 900 is designed for MEO, GEO, HEO and
interplanetary orbits. Flight heritage achieved as Europe’s first
Galileo satellite, GIOVE-A.

Customised Platforms
SSTL’s platforms are based on a common core of avionics which are used
alongside mission specific avionics that have been developed to
provide customised solutions. The high degree of modularity and
flexibility used allows new developments and techniques to be readily
transferred from one platform to another as demand in size or
capability changes.


SSTL has pioneered the use of commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) optics
for space imaging, producing stunning results at exceptionally low
cost. SSTL is able to offer state-of-the art digital imagers for a
range of remote sensing applications.

Rapid monitoring: Precision farming, regional yield forecasting,
forest inventory, disaster monitoring, environmental management
Multi-angle measurement: Vegetation classification, air quality
Littoral applications: Water quality, seabed classification
Military applications: Surveillance, target detection, target

A highly versatile hyperspectral system with more than 7-years
inflight heritage, offering in-orbit programmable selection of
spectral bands location, bandwidth and ground sampling distance. In
orbit since 2001 and provides the highest spatial resolution of any
hyperspectral system flying in the world, attracting a substantial
international user community.

VHRI 250
Compact, very high resolution, low power pushbroom imager. Provides
high resolution imagery in 5 wavebands, using five linear detector
arrays separated in the along-track direction in the common focal
plane of a telescope.

Wide Swath DMC MSI
Multispectral pushbroom imager with effective sensor length of 27,500
pixels for each of its three separate waveband channels. At an orbital
height of 686km this gives a 600km swath width for each image.


“As part of its unique mission prime contracting experience, SSTL can
offer customers a complete turnkey ground segment solution providing
all the hardware and software necessary to operate, maintain, process
and archive data from SSTL spacecraft. SSTL has significant experience
in this area and has installed more than 20 systems in locations
across the world.”

Mission Control Centre and Ground Station
This is a complete system for TT&C and payload data retrieval from
SSTL spacecraft utilising SSTL produced software for command and
control. We have various groundstation options available:
* S and X band systems
* Tracking Antennas systems – 3m to 7.3m. Heated and Radome
options available
* SSTL Netcentric Communications racks allow Ground Stations to be
located away from Mission Control Centres
* SSTL Minirack systems integrate with existing or customer
furnished Ground Station infrastructures

Mission Planning System
This allows operators to schedule and task the spacecraft efficiently
with a minimum number of staff. Operators and payload specialists are
able to view satellite passes, providing observation opportunities for
specific areas of interest.

Image Processing & Storage and Archiving
Software systems are supplied to support radiometric and geometric
processing of medium resolution image data, including:
* Smart-i radiometric data processor
* Keystone suite of modules
* Smart-i catalogue

SSTL can provide hard disk based data archiving systems sized
appropriately for the mission with additional high capacity tape
library backup depending on the customers requirements.

SSTL can handle all aspects of installation from initial site surveys
to establish a suitable environment for the Ground Segment, through
facilities requirements, shipping, installation and final
Full training can be provided to the customer on the operational
aspects and basic maintenance of the Mission Control Centre, Ground
Station and Antenna system.
Mission Support
SSTL provides a 24/7 helpline with back-up operations from our own
ground stations in the UK.
SSTL can provide maintenance support for the Ground Segment throughout
the mission lifetime, including yearly service visits, email and
telephone helplines and service and repair by SSTL qualified

“SSTL satellites are already being used to provide critical and
commercially valuable services to a wide range of users. The DMC
constellation provides timely information to support emergency and aid
organisations to respond to disasters across the globe, the GIOVE-A
spacecraft continues to broadcast the Galileo signals that are being
used to refine the European navigation service and the RapidEye system
will soon be providing the first global, rapid revisit information to
improve agricultural solutions. The affordable capability of SSTL
missions is opening new commercial, scientific and security
applications for a wider set of customers.”

Remote Monitoring
Advances in digital imaging and small-satellite avionics mean that
small satellites can now provide outstanding value for Earth remote-
sensing missions. SSTL initiated low cost remote sensing missions,
launching solid-state imaging payloads as early as 1985 and has
continued to lead the way in single-satellite and constellation
missions. Building on innovative technology and unparalleled practical
experience, we are able to offer our customers a remote sensing
mission that provides the data they need at a surprisingly low price.

Remote sensing missions are typically used for:
* Land use and land cover analysis
* Environmental monitoring
* Precision agriculture
* Urban development monitoring
* Disaster monitoring
* Archaeology
* Geological survey
* Regional management system

Telecommunications / Navigation
SSTL has the capability to offer a full complement of
telecommunications and navigation products ranging from complete end
to end systems, through platform or payload provision to subsystem
equipment supply. Complete solutions are offered across the GEO and
LEO communications and navigation product ranges with rapid schedules
and low costs. The GIOVE-A satellite system, providing in-orbit
heritage for the SSTL GEO product, is the first European Galileo
satellite. It has achieved an availability of 99.8% and exceeds its
mission lifetime. The platform accommodates a fully redundant dual
frequency payload with three separate signal generation chains capable
of generating representative Galileo signals, broadcasting in the
E2L1E1, E6 and E5 frequency bands.

Technology Demonstration
Operational space missions, whether scientific, military or commercial
demand reliable, high-performance solutions. The basic technologies
required for true state-of-the-art performance are seldom designed for
the harsh space environment. However, a technology demonstration
mission based on the appropriate SSTL platform can validate key
technologies in the orbital environment rapidly and affordably. Past
SSTL technology demonstration tasks have ranged from early tests on
solid-state devices, through to missions such as S80/T, Clementine and
CERISE and more recently, CFESat, which validated payloads and
initiated services. SSTL’s GIOVE-A mission was the technology
demonstrator for ESA’s Galileo System Test Bed, which has validated an
entire navigation payload and signal structure. SSTL nanosatellites,
microsatellites and minisatellites have hosted customer technology
payloads including solar cells, communications transmitters, an
internet router and a GPS receiver, as well as numerous SSTL R&D
payloads. With a rapid order-to-orbit time, SSTL provide customers
with a technology demonstration mission that will rapidly reduce costs
and risks for an operational programme.

SSTL small satellites are playing an increasing role in space science,
enabling compact, sophisticated payloads to access the orbital
environment, both affortably and in rapid time frames. Small
satellites and space instruments can be used to underpin national
science programmes. This offers continual progress, innovation and
improving economic returns which will ultimately enrich the
international programmes. The benefits of national small satellites
and space instruments are wide ranging and include:
*      More flight opportunities for more principal investigators
*      More focussed missions with less pressure to accommodate
various non-related instruments
*      Faster turnaround from concept to results
*      Better response to emerging opportunities
*      The national distinction of pioneering next generation
*      De-risking expensive projects
*      Opportunities to bargain and collaborate in bi-laterals
*      Opportunities to train next generation scientists and
*      Prestigious, strategic asset focussed on national goals

There is huge potential for small satellite exploitation in scientific
applications. A roadmap towards complex mission objectives can be
achieved with low cost satellites, individually, and in constellations
and formations to increase data sampling and synthesise much larger
satellites.  Small satellites can be co-located alongside a larger,
traditional satellite to mitigate payload accommodation challenges and
to add extra payloads once the main satellite has been launched.

Scientific Missions
Small satellite missions can cover a wide range of space science
*      Optical and gamma ray astronomy
*      Space environment
*      Solar science
*      Upper atmosphere science
*      Lunar and planetary

Particular areas of research and development at SSTL include looking
at the use of small satellites for:
* Mapping and disaster monitoring
* Hyperspectral imaging
* GPS reflectometry for sea state monitoring
* Earthquake science
* Infrared and thermal infrared imaging

SSTL promotes understanding of scientific requirements across a range
of earth and space science missions. SSTL small satellites offer a
valuable service in:
* Offering early payload flight experience for in-orbit
demonstration and test bed activities
* Providing complementarity with larger missions
* Performing specific scientific applications affordably and in
rapid timeframes
* Constellations and formations to increase data sampling and
synthesise much larger satellites

Science Payloads
Through our alliance with the University of Surrey, we have had the
privilege of hosting several ground-breaking science payloads
developed within the Surrey Space Centre.
* Ozone monitor

Space radiation interests space physicists and is of concern to
satellite engineers. By designing small, sophisticated radiation
monitors and placing them on a number of microsatellite missions,
Surrey scientists have built a global reputation for monitoring the
orbital radiation environment and its effects on the commercial-off-
the-shelf (COTS) electronic devices used in SSTL satellites. This long
term campaign of measuring cosmic particles and trapped radiation in a
variety of orbits has also produced novel scientific results and
increasedthe company’sunderstanding of the dynamics of the radiation
belts. Following the acquisition of SIRA Electro-Optics in 2006, SSTL
also offer high precision optical instruments and sub-systems from our
Class 10 facilities at Sevenoaks, Kent.

SSTL is designing satellites for science missions beyond earth orbit:
to the moon, inner planets, near Earth objects (NEOs), Mars and Venus.
Studies for ESA, NASA and our own technology demonstration programmes,
have shown that many of the cost-effective engineering solutions that
we have employed successfully in LEO and MEO can be translated
effectively to these more-demanding environments. SSTL has already
developed a number of early-phase mission concepts which tackle the
challenges of radiation, navigation, propulsion and
telecommunications. SSTL aims to lower the cost of entry for
exploratory scientific and technology demonstration missions
previously the preserve of the most expensive and time consuming
missions. Reduced costs bring more frequent opportunities and enable
bolder plans, such as the routine monitoring from space of NEOs that
may threaten to collide with Earth.

Concept Studies

Architecture study on Deep Space Navigation and Communication
Subcontracted to Thales Alenia Space for a role in one of the ESA ‘In-
Space Architecture’ studies, SSTL’s role was todefine in-space and
surface navigation and communications data relay requirements as well
as suggesting preliminary systems for addressing such requirements
using small, low cost missions. Work has explored lunar and Mars
architectures and options for small satellites supporting NEO.Low Cost
Lunar Mission

Feasibility Study
SSTL conducted an in-house funded lunar mission feasibility study in
2002 to assess the performance and cost of an ‘entry level’ mission.
This work followed on from the ESA funded Phase A and Phase B study on
LUNARSAT. The study concluded that the mission was technically
feasible with a target cost of €25M including platform, operations,
launch and minimal new technology. A 10-50 kg scientific payload could
be supported in lunar orbit for 6-24 months.

Lunar Mission Options Study
UK Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) funded pre-phase A
study on options for a low cost UK-led lunar mission. The study
investigated various mission options, their feasibilities and
identified a number of suitable mission concepts, as well as producing
a preliminary cost estimate. Mission concepts generated included
orbiter/penetrator (MoonLITE) and soft lander (MoonRaker). Subsequent
work has assembled a UK industry team in preparation for a full Phase
A study to commence in 2008 and produced inputs for a joint UK-NASA
working group exploring collaborative lunar missions.

Venus Technology Reference Studies
Detailed system study into low cost methods of Venus exploration,
funded by ESA Science Payloads and Advanced Concepts Office (value
€350k, prime contractor). Mission consisted of a science orbiter,
relay satellite and atmospheric entry probe delivering along lifetime
aerobot for in-situ exploration of the Venus atmosphere.

Earth Re-Entry Vehicle (EVD) Study
Pre Phase A study to design technology demonstration missiion to
simulate entry conditions for a sample return missionto Mars. The high
delta-V carrier spacecraft had to accelerate the re-entry capsule to a
relative velocity of 12.8 km/s for re-entry into the Earth’s

Exploratory Missions

Lunar Mission Options Study
UK Science & Technology Facilities Council (STFC) funded pre-Phase A
study on options for a low cost UK-led lunar mission. The study
investigated various mission options, their feasibilities and
identified a number of suitable mission concepts, as well as producing
a preliminary cost estimate. Mission concepts generated included
orbiter/penetrator (MoonLITE) and soft lander (MoonRaker). Subsequent
work has assembled a UK industry team in preparation for a full Phase
A study to commence in 2008 and produced inputs for a joint UK-NASA
working group exploring collaborative lunar missions.

Magnolia Lunar Navigation / Communication Demonstrator
SSTL has been awarded a multi-million dollar mission design and
training contract with Mississippi State University under a NASA
collaborative research agreement. The objective is to establish a low
cost lunar mission concept to support the US Vision fo Space
Exploration. The Magnolia mission will be developed to PDR level,
tailored to suit the requirements of a Ka-band communications relay
payload under development by NASA.

Small satellite constellations are financially viable, enable rapid
revisit imaging and provide flexibility for replenishing space assets
for data continuity. SSTL conceived the innovative and uniqe Disaster
Monitoring Constellation (DMC), the first Earth observation
constellation of low cost small satellites providing daily images for
applications including global disaster monitoring.

The DMC provides:
* Daily revisit
* Multi-spectral imagery (Landsat-ETM 2, 3 & 4)
* Wide swath (600km )
* 32m GSD resolution
* 4m PAN

SSTL has also supplied the platforms for the 5-satellite RapidEye
constellation which is due for launch in 2008. RapidEye is a small
satellite commercial mission being developed by MacDonald Dettwiler &
Associates (MDA). This unique system will enable unprecedented global
monitoring of the Earth’s surface. The mission will provide rapid
delivery of land information products and services to the agricultural
industry for crop monitoring and mapping, yield predictions and
natural disaster assessment.
* Daily revisit
* Multi-spectral imagery
* 6.5m GSD resolution



EADS Astrium signs an agreement to acquire Surrey Satellite Technology Limited

Stevenage and Guildford – 7 April 2008: EADS Astrium, Europe’s leading
space company, has entered into an agreement to acquire the innovative
University of Surrey spin-out company Surrey Satellite Technology
Limited (SSTL), which specialises in the design and manufacture of
small and micro satellites. This landmark deal provides the financial
and industrial resources required for SSTL’s expansion and future
development. Completion of the acquisition is subject to obtaining the
relevant regulatory approval.

“In the UK we are renowned for our design and manufacture of
telecommunications satellites, interplanetary spacecraft and satellite
services provision. SSTL is one of the great success stories of the UK
space industry and will be a substantial complement to what we can
offer customers around the world with its expertise in small and micro
satellites and their innovative approach to developing new markets for
space,” said Colin Paynter, CEO of Astrium in the UK.

Professor Sir Martin Sweeting, Executive Chairman of SSTL, has been an
active ambassador for the UK space industry for many years and
considers the acquisition as essential: “SSTL operates in a highly
competitive global market. If we are to continue changing the
economics of space and provide the innovative solutions our customers
demand we must expand and maintain our R&D investment. This
acquisition strengthens SSTL enormously whilst preserving our unique
approach to space.”

Professor Christopher Snowden, Vice-Chancellor of the University of
Surrey commented: “This is a great move for both the University and
SSTL. On completion, this will represent one of the largest cash spin-
outs from any UK university. It will also allow the Company to realise
its full potential as a rapidly growing and leading supplier of small
and micro satellites, whilst the University retains the benefit of
close interaction with SSTL and its new partner EADS Astrium. By
retaining a small stake in SSTL the University shows its commitment to
both the future of the Company and space research itself.”

SSTL is joining EADS Astrium following a decision by the University of
Surrey to sell its majority stake of circa 80% in the small satellite
manufacturer. SSTL will remain an independent UK company with its
individual brand and unique approach to space following the agreement,
whilst benefiting from access to the resources of a large corporation
including design, manufacturing and test facilities. Astrium will
benefit from enhanced links with the University of Surrey to support
staff training and development, also leading to greater cooperation
and increased research on space technology and systems.

Astrium is one of the world’s leaders for its expertise in space
transportation, spacecraft and satellite services including prime
contractor for Ariane 5, the Columbus space laboratory and the
Automated Transfer Vehicle for the International Space Station, and
its leading-edge large and complex geostationary telecommunications
satellites, and the Skynet 5 secure communications system for the UK
Ministry of Defence. SSTL will complement Astrium’s existing space
capabilities that include space transportation, satellites and

Under the share purchase agreement, SSTL will be owned by EADS Astrium
NV in the Netherlands. Completion of the transaction remains subject
to approval by the relevant merger control authorities. The agreement
sees long-term research collaboration between the University of Surrey
and EADS Astrium and will further advance the University’s cutting
edge space research capacity. The collaboration will also allow
Astrium to benefit from staff training and development opportunities
afforded by the links with the University. The sale will support the
already-strong presence that Guildford and the south-east have in the
aeronautical and space industries, creating a centre of expertise for
space technology. This will allow for the region to benefit from the
Government’s commitment to invest in the UK space industry.
About Astrium
Astrium, a wholly owned subsidiary of EADS, is dedicated to providing
civil and defence space systems and services. In 2007, Astrium had a
turnover of €3.55 billion and 12,000 employees in France, Germany, the
United Kingdom, Spain and the Netherlands. Its three main areas of
activity are Astrium Space Transportation for launchers and orbital
infrastructure, and Astrium Satellites for spacecraft and ground
segment, and its wholly owned subsidiary Astrium Services for the
development and delivery of satellite services. In the UK, Astrium
employs more than 2,500 space engineers, scientists and technicians.
EADS is a global leader in aerospace, defence and related services. In
2007, EADS generated revenues of €39.1 billion and employed a
workforce of more than 116,000.

About SSTL
Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL) develops innovative
technologies to change the economics of space, delivering cost
effective satellite missions within rapid timescales. The Company is a
recognized world leader in the design, manufacture and operation of
high performance small satellites for the international market with
experience gained over more than 25 years and 27 missions launched.
SSTL employs 270 staff working on LEO and interplanetary missions,
turnkey satellite platforms and space-proven satellite subsystems and
optical systems. The Company also provides know-how transfer and
training programmes and consultancy services, and performs studies for
ESA, NASA and commercial customers related to platform design, mission
analysis and planning.

About the University of Surrey
The University of Surrey is one of the UK’s leading professional,
scientific and technological universities with a world class research
profile and a reputation for excellence in teaching and research.
Ground-breaking research at the University is bringing direct benefit
to all spheres of life – helping industry to maintain its competitive
edge and creating improvements in the areas of health, medicine, space
science, the environment, communications, defence and social policy.
In addition to the campus on 150 hectares just outside Guildford,
Surrey, the University also owns and runs the Surrey Research Park,
which provides facilities for 140 companies employing 2,700 staff. The
Sunday Times names Surrey as ‘The University for Jobs’ which
underlines the university’s growing reputation for providing high
quality, relevant degrees.