DIY Kit Puts Satellites Into Orbit for $8,000

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.

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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.

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“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.”

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