OreSat0 is a fully open source CubeSat satellite system built from scratch by the Portland State Aerospace Society, an interdisciplinary student group at Portland State University. Roughly the size of a tissue box, the tiny satellite includes everything larger satellites have — including solar panels, batteries, a color camera, and an amateur radio system. It’s scheduled to fly onboard our SXRS-6 mission no earlier than January 2022 on SpaceX’s Transporter-3 launch.
Slated to be Oregon’s first satellite, OreSat0 is the first of three satellites being built by the students. It’s mission is to test the modular, expandable, open source, and education-friendly OreSat CubeSat system. With this first flight under their belt, PSAS will build its next, larger satellite for the NASA CubeSat Launch Initiative (CSLI). This second CubeSat has a global climate science and STEM outreach mission: it will help refine global climate models by measuring the global distribution of high altitude cirrus clouds.
Space exploration is usually associated with national agencies like NASA, or with private corporations such as SpaceX. However, there now is a growing movement of people who believe that space shouldn’t be limited to governments and companies, and that space exploration can be made more accessible with Open Source technologies.
SatNOGS won the first Hackaday Prize back in 2014 with their global network of Open Source satellite receivers. There were already a number of amateur satellites in space that had been designed and launched by universities and space enthusiasts from all over the world. However, until SatNOGS came along there was no way of getting regular data for your satellite, as it would only pass within reading range a handful of times per day. The success of the SatNOGS project led to the creation of the Libre Space Foundation.
The Libre Space Foundation, founded in Greece, aims to make space exploration accessible by developing free and Open Source technologies. Alongside infrastructure projects including the SatNOGs satellite receivers, they work on satellites and rocketry. Their UPSat was the first Open Source hardware satellite, and it was successfully delivered to the International Space Station then deployed into orbit in 2017. This deployment was a remarkable achievement: a real milestone in Open Source space exploration.
Whenever I’m in Oregon, I make sure to visit Portland State Aerospace Society (PSAS), an interdisciplinary, Open Source student aerospace project at Portland State University. PSAS makes composite amateur rockets, liquid fueled rocket engines, and CubeSats (a type of small satellite made up of 10cm3 units). Over the last 20 years PSAS have had 13 launches of four generations of amateur rockets. Their current rocket is Launch Vehicle No 3.1, a four meter tall solid fueled rocket that goes up to about 5km.
PSAS is also developing a CubeSat project called OreSat. OreSat is an impressive Open Source system of modular, expandable satellite designs. Their first small satellite, OreSat0, should be completed in November then dropped off in a sun synchronous low earth orbit in February 2021. All of the hardware and software developed at PSAS can be found on their GitHub page.
Three current projects at Portland State Aerospace Society (PSAS) funnel into one ambitious goal: building a liquid fuel rocket capable of soaring to the edge of space—100 kilometers above Earth’s surface.
Tool boxes, red countdown timers, clocks set to different time zones, a workbench with satellite components and a wall of rockets surround an oval conference table. The PSAS room—located in the Maseeh College of Engineering and Computer Science building—is a cross between an engineer’s workshop and NASA control room. PSAS members utilize the space to work on a new carbon fiber airframe, a liquid fuel rocket engine and Oregon’s first satellite as they compete in Base 11—a collegiate space race where the first team to launch a liquid fuel rocket to the edge of space wins a million dollars.
Each PSAS rocket is called a launch vehicle (LV) and is given a numeric value for every new iteration. The current rocket is LV 3.1.
“LV0 was just an off the shelf rocket kit that Andrew [Greenberg]—our faculty advisor—and a couple other people started PSAS with,” said PSAS member Jean-Pierre Pillay. “After that it went to LV1 and then LV2, LV2.1, LV2.1.3 as small iterations are made.”
The final project of the three that are funneling into the liquid fuel rocket is OreSat—the first satellite built in Oregon.
“It’s a tiny cubesat, about 10-by-10-by-20 centimeters, which is what’s called a 2U cubesat,” said David Lay, electrical systems intern for OreSat and electrical engineering lead for PSAS. “’U’ is a standard unit that’s defined by the cubesat standard.”
The plan is for OreSat to be passed along from PSAS to NASA in January 2021 then flown up to the International Space Station (ISS) in April of the same year, where it will be ejected from one of the space station’s airlocks.
Andrew Greenberg, faculty advisor for PSAS, explained in an interview that “the electronic systems that [they] built for the rockets are very satellite-like” with batteries, processors and communications gears which led to the creation of OreSat.
A primary mission of OreSat is STEM outreach. High school students are able to build hand-held ground stations that can interact with the tiny satellite’s camera.
“What they do is point it up and when we do a fly by overhead with our satellite we turn the satellite towards them and we downlink a live video feed of them from space,” Lay explained. “So we call it the 400 kilometer selfie-stick.”