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Portland State team leads the effort to build a tiny CubeSat for the OreSat project.

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - PSU professor Andrew Greenberg talks about the OreSat project in his basement lab. At right is a test model for laying out tthe various cameras, sensors and batteries. The final version will fit into two 10cm by 10 cm cubes locked together.

As space states go, where is Oregon, compared to say California, Texas and Florida?

(Crickets)

Then how about Washington?

No comparison, really. They have the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Space Center Houston, Kennedy Space Center and Boeing.

However, Oregon does have OreSat, which is a project to build a small satellite and have it launched into space by NASA.

The OreSat work is led by a student group run by Andrew Greenberg, an associate professor in the engineering department at Portland State University. University of Oregon and Oregon State University students are also involved.

The students already build rockets. Now they are working on a satellite.

"We're not putting anything into space ourselves," he says. "We build amateur rockets and fly them in the Oregon desert."

The rockets go up to the altitude of a commercial airliner, around 30,000 feet, then fall back to ground with a parachute.

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Greenberg's students in the Portland State Aerospace Society are building a small communications satellite which NASA will launch and Oregon high schoolers will track with home-made ground stations.

In a basement room in PSU's engineering building you can see rocket parts in various state of completion. They are switching from an aluminum body to a carbon fiber one. But front and center now, and talking all their energy, is a workbench showing their CubeSat, with its guts exposed.

Part of the project is to get students working together, especially electromechanical engineers and computer science students. Satellites are great for that because they are just a hub of cameras, radios, sensors and motors. They are controlled by computers, and they generate reams of data (about weather, for example) that needs to be analyzed.

Big bang theory

Assuming it's approved, OreSat will be flown to the International Space Station by NASA in the fall of 2019.

The one the PSU students are building is classed as a CubeSat. This is a new generation of small, cheap satellites. The form factor is 10 x 10 x 10 centimeter cubes. They can be joined together in groups. A 3U is a Three Unit or three joined together. OreSat is a 2U and will weigh 2.6 kilograms.

This standardization has been revolutionary. Just as shipping containers, which can be clicked on and off trucks, trains and ships reduced the cost of freight, so CubeSats make it easy to fill small launcher boxes and stash them on a rocket. It's called a secondary payload. After say, a billion dollar satellite is launched, then the launcher boxes pop open like a Pez dispenser, and a spring shoots the CubeSats into their orbit.

In their basement lab Greenberg supervises the students, many of whom are in their 30s, as is common at PSU. A couple of mentors from private industry also join them.

He shows off a 3D printed model of the OreSat CubeSat. The real one will be made from aluminum, not some more expensive, super-light material.

"CubeSats are stupidly heavy, you don't have to be concerned about weight. You just have to be less than 1.33 kilograms, per cube."

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Greenberg's students in the Portland State Aerospace Society usually fbuild and fly rockets in the Oregon desert, but they realized a CubeSat would be made of similar parts. They won a competition with NASA to have it launched into space for free, although they do need to raise $200,000 to develop it.

What's the Wi-Fi password?

CubeSat is a generic term now, like SUV. Commercial off-the-shelf parts come from different countries, such as the Netherlands, Germany and Japan, as well as the U.S.

The batteries look like those from a cellphone. There's a flight computer. Sensors. A GPS receiver. And a Wi-Fi radio. "It's just like what you have in your computer, except it goes 125 kilometers instead of down to your basement. We get that under the amateur radio license."

PSU pioneered the latter, but everything the team does is open source, or shared for free.

"A private company called Planet has hundreds in space. They're making enough money that they don't mind throwing hour hundreds of satellites."

Greenberg says they realized that in building a rocket they had practically built a communications satellite, so they entered a competition run by NASA, whose goals included:

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - A metal 3D-Printed rocket engine developed by the Portland State Aerospace Society.

  • Help with STEM outreach in Oregon, teaching rural as well as city kids how to make a ground station and receive live telemetry on a computer. Academics and the Portland Metro Stem Partnership will write a ground station curriculum that high school teachers can integrate to freshman physics. "Or anyone can do it for fun," he says, not joking.
  • Do climate science. In this case, that means looking at the coverage of high altitude cirrus clouds. U of O students are running with part of the project.
  • PSU was also looking for a project that would get computer and mechanical engineers working together.

    Who's paying?

    NASA does not give an estimate of the launch cost, but a commercial launch would cost around $200,000.

    "It's very expensive to get to space. There's deployment, safety, a whole industry....It's a huge amount of energy to get them up in space and going around the earth at 17,000 mph."

    He adds that private companies are a big part of the new space race. For example Planet Inc. has a suite of 150 CubeSats in orbit right now, imaging the surface of Earth every day.

    The OreSat satellite will start off in the same orbit as the ISS, 400 kilometers above Earth, but will drift toward and — after a year — burn up in the Earth's atmosphere.

    "NASA is giving us a free ride, but we're also fundraising." OreSat needs $100,000 to build three of them (two are for testing). Greenberg is applying for grants from usual suspects such as Boeing, Intel, Precision Castparts and Tektronix, but there will also be a crowdfund appeal.

    TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Part of the avionics system for the OreSat.

    Telemetry selfies

    While Oregon may not be a space race place, Greenberg says PSU does some interesting research. The school has a five story Microfluids droptower, which supplies two seconds without gravity to see how fluids behave in weightlessness.

    The base station project is designed to get high schoolers interested in space though the medium they love: selfies.

    "The satellite and ground station are really just a giant selfie stick and cameras. Kids understand them." Using a large antenna, a cheap smart phone and a laptop, all attached to a wooden board which can be held up to space, the high school students will be able to see their own location, shot from space, as the satellite goes over.

    He shows off Satellite AR, an app you can aim your phone at and it will show and name the satellites currently in the sky, day or night. It's like Google Sky, which does the same thing for stars and planets. From the basement he sees InterCosmos 25, a Russian communications satellite.

    Students will see OreSat on their screens, and will get live video of their location, mountains and clouds rather than close ups of the tops of heads.

    TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Jeremy Louke of the Portland State Aerospace Society works on calculations for OreSat.

    "It's a cute excuse for a Oregon communications satellite. The idea is not that it does anything useful but that students can engage with it and track it. The useful part is the U of O climate science project. We're making a special camera that looks at cirrus clouds. We don't know their global coverage very well, and this is a cheap, innovative camera to find it out."

    Are they better than a cell phone camera?

    "They're worse," he says with a grin.

    So are average high schoolers today more or less interested in space, now that they have such powerful technological tools?

    "No, I think they may have a more intuitive nature for communications and wireless, because they see the bars and they're always looking for a network. But we've made the technology easy to use so they don't have to understand it. This is our chance to explain how all this stuff works because they're doing a custom version of it."

    The goal of NASA's CSOI program is to launch a CubeSat built in each of the 50 states. Oregon is one of the last states to do it.


    Joseph Gallivan
    Reporter, The Business Tribune
    971-204-7874
    This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
    Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram
    Subscribe to our E-News

    Headline_Print:

    Love of satellites

    Deck:

    Portland State team leads the effort to build a tiny CubeSat for the OreSat project.

    Jump:

    6. The Portland State Aerospace Society works on OreSat during a Friday afternoon meeting.

    7. Part of the avionics system for the OreSat.

    8. The Portland State Aerospace Society works on OreSat during a Friday afternoon meeting.

    Pull_Quotes:

    Style_Copy:

    As space states go, where is Oregon, compared to say California, Texas and Florida?

    (Crickets)

    Then how about Washington?

    No comparison, really. They have the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Space Center Houston, Kennedy Space Center and Boeing.

    However, Oregon does have OreSat, which is a project to build a small satellite and have it launched into space by NASA.

    The OreSat work is led by a student group run by Andrew Greenberg, an associate professor in the engineering department at Portland State University. University of Oregon and Oregon State University students are also involved.

    The students already build rockets. Now they are working on a satellite.

    "We're not putting anything into space ourselves," he says. "We build amateur rockets and fly them in the Oregon desert."

    The rockets go up to the altitude of a commercial airliner, around 30,000 feet, then fall back to ground with a parachute.

    In a basement room in PSU's engineering building you can see rocket parts in various state of completion. They are switching from an aluminum body to a carbon fiber one. But front and center now, and talking all their energy, is a workbench showing their CubeSat, with its guts exposed.

    Part of the project is to get students working together, especially electromechanical engineers and computer science students. Satellites are great for that because they are just a hub of cameras, radios, sensors and motors. They are controlled by computers, and they generate reams of data (about weather, for example) that needs to be analyzed.

    Big bang theory

    Assuming it's approved, OreSat will be flown to the International Space Station by NASA in the fall of 2019.

    The one the PSU students are building is classed as a CubeSat. This is a new generation of small, cheap satellites. The form factor is 10 x 10 x 10 centimeter cubes. They can be joined together in groups. A 3U is a Three Unit or three joined together. OreSat is a 2U and will weigh 2.6 kilograms.

    This standardization has been revolutionary. Just as shipping containers, which can be clicked on and off trucks, trains and ships reduced the cost of freight, so CubeSats make it easy to fill small launcher boxes and stash them on a rocket. It's called a secondary payload. After say, a billion dollar satellite is launched, then the launcher boxes pop open like a Pez dispenser, and a spring shoots the CubeSats into their orbit.

    In their basement lab Greenberg supervises the students, many of whom are in their 30s, as is common at PSU. A couple of mentors from private industry also join them.

    He shows off a 3D printed model of the OreSat CubeSat. The real one will be made from aluminum, not some more expensive, super-light material.

    "CubeSats are stupidly heavy, you don't have to be concerned about weight. You just have to be less than 1.33 kilograms, per cube."

    What's the Wi-Fi password?

    CubeSat is a generic term now, like SUV. Commercial off-the-shelf parts come from different countries, such as the Netherlands, Germany and Japan, as well as the U.S.

    The batteries look like those from a cellphone. There's a flight computer. Sensors. A GPS receiver. And a Wi-Fi radio. "It's just like what you have in your computer, except it goes 125 kilometers instead of down to your basement. We get that under the amateur radio license."

    PSU pioneered the latter, but everything the team does is open source, or shared for free.

    "A private company called Planet has hundreds in space. They're making enough money that they don't mind throwing hour hundreds of satellites."

    Greenberg says they realized that in building a rocket they had practically built a communications satellite, so they entered a competition run by NASA, whose goals included:

    [BULLET] Help with STEM outreach in Oregon, teaching rural as well as city kids how to make a ground station and receive live telemetry on a computer. Academics and the Portland Metro Stem Partnership will write a ground station curriculum that high school teachers can integrate to freshman physics. "Or anyone can do it for fun," he says, not joking.

    [BULLET] Do climate science. In this case, that means looking at the coverage of high altitude cirrus clouds. U of O students are running with part of the project.

    PSU was also looking for a project that would get computer and mechanical engineers working together.

    Who's paying?

    NASA does not give an estimate of the launch cost, but a commercial launch would cost around $200,000.

    "It's very expensive to get to space. There's deployment, safety, a whole industry....It's a huge amount of energy to get them up in space and going around the earth at 17,000 mph."

    He adds that private companies are a big part of the new space race. For example Planet Inc. has a suite of 150 CubeSats in orbit right now, imaging the surface of Earth every day.

    The OreSat satellite will start off in the same orbit as the ISS, 400 kilometers above Earth, but will drift toward and — after a year — burn up in the Earth's atmosphere.

    "NASA is giving us a free ride, but we're also fundraising." OreSat needs $100,000 to build three of them (two are for testing). Greenberg is applying for grants from usual suspects such as Boeing, Intel, Precision Castparts and Tektronix, but there will also be a crowdfund appeal.

    Telemetry selfies

    While Oregon may not be a space race place, Greenberg says PSU does some interesting research. The school has a five story Microfluids droptower, which supplies two seconds without gravity to see how fluids behave in weightlessness.

    The base station project is designed to get high schoolers interested in space though the medium they love: selfies.

    "The satellite and ground station are really just a giant selfie stick and cameras. Kids understand them." Using a large antenna, a cheap smart phone and a laptop, all attached to a wooden board which can be held up to space, the high school students will be able to see their own location, shot from space, as the satellite goes over.

    He shows off Satellite AR, an app you can aim your phone at and it will show and name the satellites currently in the sky, day or night. It's like Google Sky, which does the same thing for stars and planets. From the basement he sees InterCosmos 25, a Russian communications satellite.

    Students will see OreSat on their screens, and will get live video of their location, mountains and clouds rather than close ups of the tops of heads.

    "It's a cute excuse for a Oregon communications satellite. The idea is not that it does anything useful but that students can engage with it and track it. The useful part is the U of O climate science project. We're making a special camera that looks at cirrus clouds. We don't know their global coverage very well, and this is a cheap, innovative camera to find it out."

    Are they better than a cell phone camera?

    "They're worse," he says with a grin.

    So are average high schoolers today more or less interested in space, now that they have such powerful technological tools?

    "No, I think they may have a more intuitive nature for communications and wireless, because they see the bars and they're always looking for a network. But we've made the technology easy to use so they don't have to understand it. This is our chance to explain how all this stuff works because they're doing a custom version of it."

    The goal of NASA's CSOI program is to launch a CubeSat built in each of the 50 states. Oregon is one of the last states to do it.

    TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - PSU professor Andrew Greenberg shows off a model of a 2U CubeSat for the OreSat project in his basement lab.

    ========

    BASICS

    OreSat is Oregon's first satellite. Part of the 2017 NASA CubeSat Launch Initiative, OreSat is a vehicle for collaborative, interdisciplinary aerospace engineering education for the state. OreSat will perform atmospheric science research and serve as a testbed for innovative long-range WiFi, solar cell and satellite bus technologies.

    Dr. Andrew Greenberg: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

    More about OreSat http://oresat.org/.

    =========

    FLYING SOLAR

    OreSat's CubeSat project uses solar cells donated by California company Alta Devices.

    "These cells can be easily handled by students, don't require traditionally painstaking encapsulation techniques and are surprisingly affordable," Greenberg said in an Alta Devices news release. "And they provide excellent power output compared to other alternatives."

    Alta Devices's Aaroji Vijh told the Business Tribune that satellite technology is moving fast.

    "Because of the high costs of development and launch, they were done by large organizations and contractors such as NASA, Boeing and Lockheed Martin. It was high stakes, low risk tolerance, and they were designed for long lifetimes. But with the reduction in power consumption and increase in computing power, we can pack more into small volumes."

    Hence the rise of CubeSats, which are low stakes, high risk.

    "There is a hunger for data now. Data analytics and cloud computing represent a real shift, a powerful new tool. Now people are collecting data and they don't know what it will be used for. This hunger is driving the growth of the need for small satellites. With the Internet of Things, everything is now a connected device."

    The cost of launch has been reduced. "It's not just NASA and the European Space Agency now, there is SpaceX and about 50 small companies developing launches for small satellite and building rockets."

    What Alta gets out of it is "technology heritage," or proof that their solar cells work in space.

    Alta's solar cells are made using CVD of Chemical Vapor Deposition. Unlike a traditional solar panel, the cells are a thin layer deposited on a metal panel.

    This makes them flexible, easy to put in service. Cracks on solar panels reduces their output, so flexible panels — especially if they have to go up on a rocket — crack less and produce electricity more consistently.

    Alta cells can be mounted to coiled carbon fiber booms, flat-packed, polymer-based accordion arrays, even inflatable structures.

    "We would be using them anyway even if they were not given to us," says Dr. Greenberg of PSU.


    Joseph Gallivan
    Reporter, The Business Tribune
    971-204-7874
    This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
    Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram
    Subscribe to our E-News

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