Interactive Earth Imaging
SkyCube is an educational satellite that takes images of the Earth from space by request, sends “tweets” in the form of radio pings, and inflates a balloon to de-orbit itself in a demonstration that could be used to reduce future space debris.
Customer: Southern Stars Group
Research: Interactive Earth Imaging
NanoRacks Facility: Smallsat Deployment
Mission Duration: 09/2014 – 03/2015
Mission Status: Deployed in LEO
More Info: From NASA website
SkyCube takes numerous low-resolution images of the Earth, and transmits them down for later distribution to mission sponsors. These are low-resolution images are intended to provide a global, environmental view of the Earth, and provoke the same type of world-unifying reaction as to Apollo 17’s famous “Blue Marble” picture.
SkyCube’s “tweets from space” are simply the satellite’s beaconing pings, modulated with sponsor-supplied messages, broadcast at 915 MHz every 10 seconds. They are intended to be heard by amateur radio operators worldwide. These messages are screened for consistency with the mission’s educational goals.
At the end of mission, SkyCube inflates an onboard balloon to a diameter of approximately7 feet (2 meters). The balloon makes SkyCube into an optically visible target to naked-eye observers on the ground, further enhancing its public outreach impact.
The balloon also rapidly de-orbits the satellite due to atmospheric drag, causing it to re-enter the atmosphere and disintegrate harmlessly approximately two weeks after balloon inflation. Thus SkyCube ends its mission cleanly, without generating space debris. It is the first CubeSat mission to deliberately de-orbit itself using a balloon.
The general public requests low-resolution images of Earth from SkyCube, providing a broad range of educational and research opportunities. The images are intended to evoke the Earth-wide view provided by the Apollo 17 “Blue Marble” image, and to observe weather patterns, auroras, and city lights at night.
The satellite’s “tweets from space,” sponsored radio pings broadcasting every 10 seconds, further engage the public. Additionally, SkyCube inflates a 7-foot-diameter ballon at the end of its mission, which makes the satellite visible to naked-eye observers on the ground.