Welcome to the 'Chips in Space' Blog!
I think what sets us apart as engineers is that we have insatiable curiosity. As they say in Dilbert, we have “The Knack,” which is “a rare condition characterized by an extreme intuition about all things mechanical and electrical.”
But I don’t know about the “social ineptitude” part. I have had the great pleasure of getting to know and work with some great engineers through a hobby we call ham radio.
My name is Steve Bible, and the editor at Microcontroller Designline has given me the opportunity to share my tale of how that hobby spilled over into my professional life as an engineer at Microchip Technology, eventually becoming one of the most interesting projects I’ve ever worked on.
Over the next several weeks, this limited-series guest blog will relate the story of how my colleagues and I came to build an amateur satellite, the challenges we ran into while doing so and, hopefully, its successful deployment from the International Space Station at roughly the end of July or Early August.
That is, whenever the next Russian Extra Vehicular Activity (EVA) is scheduled, and IF our satellite makes it onto the mission list. Plus, the just-concluded final Space Shuttle mission could push back the schedule of our satellite’s deployment. Clearly, design challenges were not the only ones we encountered on this project, but more on that later…
ARISSat-1 was originally supposed to be SuitSat-2, a successor to the phenomenon that was SuitSat-1. For a little history, SuitSat-1 launched February 3, 2006 and operated on batteries for two weeks before the radio went silent. The AJ3U Blog chronicled the mission, and includes audio recordings of the received signal from all points around the world.
As the design and system-integration team for much of SuitSat-1, what my Microchip colleagues and I hoped to achieve with SuitSat-2 was to expand the mission capabilities to include a transponder, cameras, solar panels (so that the satellite would operate for months, not weeks), and experiment capability.
ARISSat-1 undergoing vibration testing at NASA Goddard Space
Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD
(photo courtesy of AMSAT)
Why did SuitSat-2 become ARISSat-1 you ask? The Russian Orlan space suit that was being held for SuitSat-2 had to be discarded to make room, when the International Space Station (ISS) increased its occupancy to six cosmonauts and astronauts. See, there’s not much space in space (grin – and there’s a Portal 2 reference in there somewhere!).
Way back in July 2007, we held a kick-off meeting at the Johnson Spaceflight Center in Houston, TX. Many great ideas were discussed, conceived and written down. It was the beginning of an almost four-year trek has culminated in ARISSat-1 being ‘up massed’ via Progress 41 on January 28, 2011 to the ISS, where it sits waiting to be deployed.
In this blog, we hope to recount the highlights from that journey and tell you about some of our technical as well as personal trials and tribulations. How does a diverse group of folks, from all walks of life, interests and professions, create an amateur satellite to be deployed on the ISS? Tune in and see!
Commander of Expedition 27 crew Dmitry Kondratyev
with ARISSat-1 on board the International Space Station
(photo courtesy of NASA)
ARISSat-1 Official Web Site
The Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation
NASA International Space Station