by Mark Ollig
During the wonderment of our childhood, how many of us imagined the adventures of exploring outer space, the moon, or another planet?
We might have even dreamed of building and launching our own spacecraft, and envisioned it traveling away from the Earth, through space, and landing on the moon.
I did, and I would bet some of you nostalgically reading this, thought about it, too.
You and I will be able to realize this unfulfilled childhood dream using the “Pocket Spacecraft.”
“We want anyone to be able to send their own spacecraft into space,” stated Pocket Spacecraft founder Michael Johnson.
Their spacecraft are small enough to fit in one’s pocket; hence the name.
The cost to own your own fully-working spacecraft is very affordable.
The actual spacecraft itself physically resembles a compact disc (CD).
It’s made of a thin-film polyimide substrate, high-performance bonded solar cells, thinned die passive components, sensors, and a metal hoop antenna.
It can even have custom graphics.
The Pocket Spacecraft’s components are protected, using a conformal coating layer film which contours itself over the entire spacecraft.
Solar cells generating a little over 100mW (milliwatt) will power what is essentially a “spacecraft system-on-a-chip.”
Current Pocket Spacecraft models include:
• the Earth Scout Spacecraft;
• the Lunar Scout Spacecraft;
• and the Lunar Scout Special Edition Spacecraft.
Pocket Spacecraft, based in Bristol, UK, is a project for allowing individuals to actively participate during a mission into space, to the moon – and beyond, using their own personalized spacecraft.
One will not be just a passive watcher; an individual “space explorer” will be able to take on an active role in their spacecraft’s design, and its software programming.
Once an individual has secured and selected their spacecraft, they can use Project Spacecraft’s Mission Control Center software on their PC, tablet, or the iOS/Android software app for use on a smartphone.
This software will allow an individual to be directly involved with their spacecraft’s planning and programming, and monitor their personalized Pocket Spacecraft as it is being constructed in the lab.
This monitoring is observable online.
When the spacecraft is completed, one can watch it being loaded into the Interplanetary CubeSat Mothership (CubeSat).
Your spacecraft, along with the others, will be secured inside this CubeSat, which acts as the “bus” your personal spacecraft travels in.
The CubeSat will then be attached to the rocket that will be launched into space.
Project Spacecraft has organized itself to qualify for NASA or ESA (European Space Agency) rocket launches, and rockets provided by commercial space transport providers.
Once the CubeSat is in orbit over the Earth, all of the Earth Scout Spacecraft will be released.
These spacecraft will fall back to the ground, in order to demonstrate their landing capabilities on a planet with an atmosphere; in this instance, the Earth.
Meanwhile, the Earth-orbiting CubeSat, containing all of the Lunar Scout Spacecraft, will begin its months-long journey to the moon.
Once the CubeSat reaches the moon, the Lunar Scout Spacecraft will be released above the moon’s surface.
While over the moon, they will be photographed by the CubeSat, which will then transmit the pictures back to Earth.
The Lunar Scout Spacecraft will land on the moon to complete the mission.
Using the Mission Control Center app on your smartphone, you will be able to hold your phone up to the sky, and have the app point you in the direction to where your spacecraft is located.
Sounds exciting, doesn’t it?
An individual space explorer’s Mission Control Center program will receive data from their spacecraft as it travels beyond (or returns to) the Earth, while it’s in space – or when it lands on the moon, or even another planet.
Status updates and other information is transmitted from the individual spacecraft antenna array via telemetry signals.
The telemetry is received by the Project Spacecraft ground station network on Earth.
Powerful ground satellite stations are needed to receive these weaker signals coming from the individual spacecraft in space.
An individual spacecraft might also direct its information to the CubeSat, which if in range, could relay the information back to Earth.
This information will then forward over the Internet to the Pocket Mission Control Center applications.
The spacecraft trajectory - or course it’s traveling in space - is calculated using “infrequent radio observations.”
Instead of continuous real-time feeds from the spacecraft, an algorithm will be used in the user’s Mission Control Center application software to show the current location of the spacecraft based upon the data as reported from the radio observations.
I learned it is common practice for smaller spacecraft to use this method of infrequent radio observations.
Pocket Spacecraft told me they are currently running simulated missions on “candidate flight hardware” to ensure the embedded software can survive all kinds of “unhelpful events,” including instrument failure and space radiation damage.
I was impressed with the information Project Spacecraft provided me, and with the amount of talent behind their project.
Pocket Spacecraft includes a global team of scientists, engineers, and designers working together at leading universities around the world.
Are you interested in becoming a “citizen space explorer?”
I know I am.
Soon, we can begin our mission into space, using our own, personally-designed spacecraft.
I also like the idea of being the flight director of my own Mission Control Center.
How cool is that?
To get started on this adventure, sign up at the Pocket Spacecraft website, http://pocketspacecraft.com.
Specific spacecraft types, pricing, video, and other information can be found at http://pocketspacecraft.com/about/mission-to-the-moon.
Follow Project Spacecraft using @mySpacecraft on Twitter.