Unicorn-2a PocketQube Satellite

Unicorn-2a in Space - image credit Alba Orbital

Unicorn-2a in Space – image credit Alba Orbital

Glasgow-based Alba Orbital plan to launch a 3p PocketQube Unicorn-2a built by several radio amateurs including Constantin Constantinides MM6XOM, Sajimon Chacko 2M0DSY and Alejandro González Garrido EA7KDU. A 3rd quarter 2018 launch is planned on a Vector Launch Inc. rocket from Kodiak, Alaska into a 350 x 350 km 98 degree orbit. The mission will last about 45 days and Delfi-PQ is expected to be a fellow passenger on the launch.

Unicorn-2a PocketQube Structure

Unicorn-2a PocketQube structure

The mission of Unicorn-2a is primarily a technological demonstration of an Optical payload with a 16m GSD (Ground Sample Distance).

When the satellite is in orbit it is planned to run challenges with the amateur radio community such as:
– 1st download of an image from the satellite
– 1st reception of text based/extended beacon
– 1st reception of the satellite in the southern hemisphere

An open source GUI for the satellite will be available to all from Alba Orbital’s web site. This GUI allows for monitoring the health status of the satellite once the beacon has been received.

Alba Orbital are collaborating with the University of Aachen and their amateur radio group DL0FHA to trial Unicorn-2a operations and act as a backup. This helps students learn about communicating with a real mission.

The team are proposing a UHF downlink using 9k6 bps GFSK and at 2.4 GHz using 200 kbps GMSK and LoRa at 38 kbps.

Watch the talk on the Unicorn-2a structure by Andrew Dunn given at PocketQube Workshop in Delft

Unicorn-2 http://www.albaorbital.com/unicorn2/

Unicorn-2 on IARU satellite frequency coordination site http://www.amsat.org.uk/iaru/

Vector to launch Unicorn-2a and Delfi-PQ PocketQube satellites on first orbital attempt

PocketQube Workshop presentation slides released

OzQube-1 LogoIn March Stuart McAndrew gave a presentation on OzQube-1 a tiny PocketQube satellite which aims to transmit images of the Earth from space.

OzQube-1 will be just 5x5x5 cm (1P) in size and the aim is to keep the hardware costs down to under $1,000. The satellite structure is being developed by Jo Hinchliffe MW6CYK.

Stuart’s talk titled ‘Building a Satellite from Scratch: The DIY Engineering behind OzQube-1’ describes some of the challenges he’s faced in building his own low-cost satellite.

Watch OzQube-1 Presentation at TU Delft PocketQube Workshop

Download all the workshop presentation slides including OzQube-1 from

Delfi Space hosted the PocketQube satellite workshop at the Delft University of Technology on March 24, 2017 http://www.delfispace.nl/pocketqube-workshop

Stuart McAndrew OzQube-1

Jo Hinchliffe MW6CYK

Video of $50SAT ham radio satellite talk

Yaesu handheld and $50SAT 1.5U PocketQube

Yaesu handheld and $50SAT 1.5U PocketQube

The story behind $50SAT, a new approach to amateur satellite design which became the world’s smallest operational satellite, built for £125 in a garden shed.

On Saturday, August 6, Stuart Robinson GW7HPW gave a presentation on the amateur radio satellite $50SAT to the Electromagnetic Field event EMF 2016 in Guildford.

Talk Description: If you are building an Amateur satellite the simple choice would be to assemble a device with all the latest satisfyingly advanced and complex tech. The $50SAT team made a decision to go against convention and produce a design with the minimum of components.

$50SAT was the first of a new class of satellite pioneered by Professor Bob Twiggs KE6QMD; the PocketQubes, designed to be small and light so they would be cheap to launch. $50SAT was launched in November 2013 using a Dnepr rocket from Dombarovsky Air Base in Russia and remained working in orbit for 20 months, the team had only expected it to last for a month at best.

Watch The story behind $50SAT

$50SAT http://www.50dollarsat.info/

$50Sat Eagle2 PocketQube

$50SAT Falls Silent  http://www.dk3wn.info/p/?cat=143

UK and Malta University Satellite Collaboration

Mock-up showing typical size of a PocketQube satellite

Mock-up showing typical size of a PocketQube satellite

The UK’s University of Birmingham, the University of Malta, the Malta Amateur Radio League (MARL) and the Italian Astrodynamics company, GAUSS Srl are collaborating on a project to send a PocketQube satellite with an amateur radio payload into space.

The Times of Malta newspaper reports:

The 5x5x5 cm device, referred to as a PocketQube pico-satellite, will be launched in 2018 into a sun-synchronous low earth orbit (LEO) and will be used to validate on-board equipment that will study the properties the Earth’s ionosphere.

This project will pave the way for a swarm of eight such satellites that will spread over a large geographical area and hence gain better coverage of changeable ionospheric conditions which affect radio communications.

The collaboration has brought together two Maltese post graduate engineering students – Darren Cachia in Malta and Jonathan Osairiis Camilleri (Ozzy), a Ph.D. student at the University of Birmingham – who have joined efforts and are developing the satellite platform and the scientific payload respectively.

The mission is expected to last about 18 months and will relay information back to Earth that will be accessible to anyone owning a simple ham radio set. Information will be made available in due course to allow schools and interested individuals to participate using inexpensive equipment.

Read the Time of Malta story at

Read the Independent newspaper story at

Martin Sweeting G3YJO gave a presentation to the University of Birmingham titled: Keeping Satellites in Space – Where Science and Engineering Meet

Malta Amateur Radio League (MARL) http://www.9h1mrl.org/

$50SAT Falls Silent

Yaesu handheld and $50SAT 1.5U PocketQube

Yaesu handheld and $50SAT 1.5U PocketQube

The $50SAT amateur radio spacecraft ,which measures just 5x5x7.5 cm and weighs only 210 grams, has ceased transmitting after nearly 20 months in space.

Michael Kirkhart, KD8QBA, writes:

Tuesday, July 21, 2015 marked the 20 month anniversary of the launch of $50SAT/MO-76/Eagle2, and unfortunately, it appears to have gone silent.  The last time I heard it was on Sunday, July 19, 2015, 08:42 UTC from Anton’s (ZR6AIC) WebSDR.  A screenshot of the WebSDR while $50SAT was transmitting RTTY, a screenshot of gpredict showing its location during the transmission, and the captured RTTY audio are up on the Dropbox; they are accessible via the following URL:


Unfortunately, there was a fade starting in the middle of the capture, so I was only able to do a partial decode:
2015-07-19,08:42,KG43,ZR6AIC/KD8QBA,$50SAT,,2990,15719,,,84,3,,22,?,?,?,?,?,?,*? (NO CHECKSUM – MISSING DATA)

Has anyone else has heard $50SAT since July 19?  If so, please let us know.

The likely cause of failure was a near complete loss of solar power.  Looking at the last 5 complete RTTY telemetry messages, the amount of solar power being generated was very low:

2015-06-21,08:23,KG43,ZR6AIC/KD8QBA,$50SAT,,2990,15688,,,82,3,,22,16,78,,3435,1572,3319,*4A  (3435 mV, 0 mA, 0 mW)
2015-06-22,08:15,KG43,ZR6AIC/KD8QBA,$50SAT,,2990,15689,,,81,3,,21,15,78,4,3536,1573,3339,*7D (3536 mV, 4 mA, 14 mW)
2015-06-22,08:20,KG43,ZR6AIC/KD8QBA,$50SAT,,2990,15689,,,84,3,,22,17,78,3,3556,1573,3339,*78 (3556 mV, 3 mA, 11 mW)
2015-07-07,08:25,KG43,ZR6AIC/KD8QBA,$50SAT,,2990,15706,,,84,3,,22,18,78,1,3475,1590,3319,*7C (3475 mV, 1 mA, 3 mW)
2015-07-09,08:07,KG43,ZR6AIC/KD8QBA,$50SAT,,2990,15708,,,81,3,,22,15,78,3,3516,1592,3319,*7E (3516 mV, 3 mA, 11 mW)

Moreover, when looking at the Battery Voltage/MPPT Current chart, the last set of MPPT (solar) current measurements are well below the trendline, which itself has a negative slope:


Because $50SAT will not transmit if the battery voltage is below 3300 mV, we do not know if it is completely dead or the battery voltage is almost always too low to enable the transmitter.

$50SAT Boards

$50SAT Boards

Our best guess as to what happened is the solar cells have been slowly damaged due to sputtering.  All the high energy particles from the solar wind can effectively “sandblast” the satellite, and since our cells had no protective cover glass, this will cause the surface to slowly become diffused, and thus cause the output of the cells to drop.  We knew this would happen.  What we did not know is $50SAT would operate long enough where this would become a problem; our bets were on the battery failing first.  Since many other CubeSats used the same Spectrolab TASC cells as we did, we are curious about how long it took for the solar output to degrade on these other satellites.  If any of them are reading this post, we would love to hear from you!

We are now in the “how long will it stay in orbit?” phase of the mission.  Thanks to James DeYoung, N8OQ, we have a de-orbit prediction of May of 2017.  From July 6, 2015 to August 28, 2015, the orbital decay rate was about 0.79 km/week.  Earlier this year, it was about 1.2 km/week.  As of August 28, 2015, apogee was at 554 km, and perigee was at 525 km.  We will continue to monitor the TLEs from Celestrak and periodically update the “Orbital-Analysis” folder on the Dropbox.

We would like to extend a very big THANK YOU to the worldwide amateur satellite community!  You helped make our mission a resounding success!  We were able to determine it was possible to make a satellite this small which could generate and store its own power as well as have two-way radio communication capability.  We were able to do this using commercially available parts, including a $10 Li-Ion camera battery, a $10 ISM band radio, and a microcontroller programmed in interpreted BASIC.  We look forward to seeing what the next generation of PocketQubes can do.


The $50SAT/MO-76/Eagle-2 team:

Howie DeFelice, AB2S
Stuart Robinson, GW7HPW
Michael Kirkhart, KD8QBA
Professor Robert Twiggs, KE6QMD

$50SAT 19 Months in Space https://amsat-uk.org/2015/06/30/50dollarsat-19-months-in-space/

New UK CubeSat Regulations Proposed

AO-73 (FUNcube-1) - Image credit Wouter Weggelaar PA3WEG

AO-73 (FUNcube-1) – Image credit Wouter Weggelaar PA3WEG

The UK Space Agency has conducted a review to evaluate how its regulatory approach might be tailored for CubeSat systems, they require responses to the proposals by September 1.

The UK’s Outer Space Act 1986 places a significant burden on small educational satellites such as CubeSats and other formats with the builders facing charges of up to £65,000 each year for insurance. These charges stop educational organisations building and launching CubeSats putting the UK at a significant disadvantage.

The UK Space Agency says:

Recognising the common aspects of such missions, there is an opportunity for the UK Space Agency to exploit a range of pre-determined technical assessments and associated likely regulatory outcomes for a range of likely CubeSat systems, presented in the form of a traffic light system.

The outcome of the internal review conducted by the UK Space Agency is a series of recommendations. The UK Space Agency invites responses from the space community on these proposals.

Comments on the recommendations and associated observations/suggestions relating to the regulation of CubeSats should be sent to Ryan King (ryan.king@ukspaceagency.bis.gsi.gov.uk) by September 1, 2015.

Submissions will be duly considered by the UK Space Agency and reflected accordingly in future implementation plans to address the regulation of CubeSats.

The two documents can be downloaded from

It is suggested those in the UK with an interest in small satellites, be it CubeSat, PocketQube or the other formats, provide feedback to Ryan King to help ensure the future regulatory environment does not place any undue restrictions on small satellite developers.

See the UK CubeSat Forum at http://www.cubesatforum.org.uk/