Hack a Satellite!

Flash news: We were selected to fly to the ISS! More information about this soon.

The original spirit of hacking is taking some hardware, modifying and making it to work again.

In our case we take some real space stuff: a new kind of educational CubeSat called Aalto KitSat and a flight spare copy of the RADMON radiation monitor flying in orbit in the Aalto-1 satellite, and we try to build a radiation monitor for the ISS.

This requires soldering, wrenching and coding. It's a wet dream for the geeks!

Aboard the ISS, the KitSat-RADMON combination can be contacted and used for education. The students can read the data from the RADMON and satellite's own sensors in real time and send commands to the satellite for further actions until the next contact. It's not only fun, but extremely educational and contagious: we need more people infected by space virus!

As a bonus, the satellite may send us the measurements that are really useful for the scientists trying to better understand the space weather and the radiation inside the ISS.

Team: Tessa Nikander, Samuli Nyman, Alexandros Binios, Alexandre Bosser and Bruce Clayhills
Mentors: Jari Mäkinen and Jaan Praks
PI of the science results: Rami Vainio
Advisor and supporter: astronaut Christer Fuglesang


Background: Aalto KitSat with RADMON to ISS

Aalto KitSat is a functional 1U CubeSat made with inexpensive, off the shelf electronics and tailored for educational use.

It is based on the satellite demonstrator designed for the "Space Truck", a space themed mini science centre that drove around Finland in September and October 2017 under the umbrella of the Suomi 100 satellite project. The general public built under supervision a simple, but fully functional satellite in the cleanroom of the exhibition.

After the tour the concept of the satellite was further simplified and focussed for educational use. The first versions of the KitSat - as it is now called - will be used in 3Q of 2018 at the Heureka Science Centre during the teacher training sessions and Nordic ESERO (the Nordic branch of the educational initiative of the European Space Agency) training.

The KitSat is working just like a real CubeSat and it can be used for pre-planned and ad hoc mission simulations, test procedure and system operation training, and also real missions like launching on balloon to stratosphere, dropping from altitude under a parachute or just operating remotely. The basic satellite has a IR-capable camera and suite of environmental sensors including air quality and pressure. It has also an internal space for additional instruments and port for adding any kind of external or internal instrument.

We propose using the KitSat in the Hackathlon for very challenging hack requiring work in both hardware and software: adding the spare flight model of the RADMON radiation monitor flying now on the Aalto-1 satellite in the KitSat and making the combination as a internal radiation monitor aboard the ISS.

RADMON is a compact radiation monitor sensitive to >10 MeV protons and >2 MeV electrons. It measures the flux of particles incident on the device in altogether twelve flux channels, which can be configured to respond to electrons and protons of different energies.

The radiation level inside the ISS is naturally monitored already now in many ways, but the information gathered by RADMON would be not only fun, but also scientifically interesting, because inside the ISS there are three important applications for RADMON data.

- First, from the flux measurement, an estimate of the radiation dose rate can be calculated in a straightforward manner.

- Second, by measuring the proton flux at high energies (>50 MeV, TBC), penetrating the hull of the station, one can also perform a measurement of the primary particle flux along the orbit of the ISS. This will generate an interesting dataset on cosmic-ray variations as well as important data on the solar particles able to reach the orbit of the station.

- Third, RADMON has also a memory scrubber implemented in its FPGA, which allows a direct quantitative evaluation of the single event effects of the radiation on the electronics.

As Aalto-1 is right now operating and gathering data with RADMON, having additional measurements from the ISS would be extremely interesting. The principal investigator of the science side of the project is prof. Rami Vainio from University of Turku.

We have preliminarily checked that the combining of the KitSat and RADMON is possible and it will fit the 1U space when the camera unit and the radio card of the KitSat are removed and power supply unit modified. All this is easy (in principle) as the KitSat has been designed for hacking.

The task for the team during the Hackathlon is actually doing this: integrating RADMON with the KitSat development model and coding the RADMON and KitSat in such way that they can work together.

The KitSat could also take other measurements with its sensors and it could be used with educational events taking live connection to the satellite aboard the ISS.

If we're selected for flying to the ISS with the NanoRacks, we would use a new version of the KitSat, surely complying with the ISS and NanoRacks requirements.

We think this the ultimate spirit of a hackathlon is to do something physical and coding – and the work with KitSat and RADMON would be just that. And the additional thrill comes from the fact that this would be also scientifically very interesting.

Read more about the World Challenge Finland: worldchallenge.live.

More info about the RADMON radiation monitor: vco.ett.utu.fi/courses/RADMON.