Monday, October 16, 2017

Is an amateur cube-sat launch possible?

Would it be possible for a volunteer based crowd-sourced project to launch a satellite into orbit? I think it is possible. Cube sats are micro sized satellites measuring only several inches in any dimension and very light. The CSXT(Civilian Space eXploration Team) launched their new “GoFast” rocket on July 14th to an confirmed altitude of 73.1 miles or 385,800 feet. (rocketry.wordpress.com). 73.1 miles is an impressive distance to achieve by hobbyists. The shortest distance between Earth and space is about 62 miles (100 kilometers) straight up, which by general accord is where the planet's boundary ends and suborbital space begins. Space for orbital things generally begins at 100 miles, and low earth orbit at 120 miles.


To be able to launch a payload into orbit a rocket would need to accelerate the payload to thousands of miles per hour horizontally and reach orbital altitude. The hobbyist rockets usually have several cameras and appear to have enough power to increase the payload. Most of the high altitude hobby rockets use a solid fuel that is cast into a mold. The fuel is the heaviest component to a high altitude rocket. Some amateur rockets use liquid gas fuels like liquid oxygen and a liquid fuel. The liquid fuels add additional levels of complexity (and cost) to a rocket project. Some liquid fuels require very cold temperatures etc. The benefit to liquid fuels is they may have more energy density, but are immensely more complex.


How much larger would the rocket need to be to be able to launch a cube-sat micro satellite into orbit?  This would account for the need of multiple stage rockets that separate from the main rocket. A cube-sat satellite is also much lighter in weight than payloads of larger rockets. A cube-sat might weigh a total of 0.5-20kg.


Most amateur high altitude rockets do not have stabilization including rotation prevention. Stabilization enables the rocket to make adjustments to ensure the rocket does not go off path. This also prevents high spin rates. In some of the amateur rocket videos the rocket spins so fast that the video is blurry. Stabilization could prevent this type of spin. A stable rocket is necessary to deliver the payload into orbit without any spin.



An example of smaller rockets that could achieve orbit are the S-Series fleet of sounding rockets funded by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) that have been in service since the late 1960s.

SS-520-4 is the fourth vehicle configuration of the SS-520, and this version includes a small third stage, which can put a 4 kg 3U CubeSat into a 180 km × 1500 km orbit with an inclination of 31°.


SS-520-4 Specifications

    Height – 31 feet (9.54 meters)
    Weight – 2.9 tons (2.6 metric tons)
    Diameter – 20 inches (52 centimeters)
    Payload to Low-Earth Orbit – ~9 lbs (4 kg)



An educated guess on cost for an amateur cube sat rocket would be around 6 figures in costs depending on the size of the rocket and fuel used.

UPDATE:

Space Enterprise at Berkeley is planning on sending a rocket to 135km(~84 miles) and they are doing it with a budget of only  $150,000 - $ 250,000 .

Japan successfully launches world’s smallest satellite-carrying rocket (SS-520)


References:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High-power_rocketry







Is an amateur cube-sat launch possible? from rocketry

Is an amateur cube-sat launch possible? • r/rocketry from aerospace

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