It Doesn’t Take Much Money or Expertise to Communicate with Satellites

| By Editorial Staff

For less than $400, and access to a 3D printer, space enthusiasts can easily communicate with Low Earth Orbit (LOE) satellites – that are constantly transmitting data from space back down to Earth – in order to help researchers with what’s become a bit of an intergalactic information overload.

Due to technological advancements reducing the costs of building and launching satellites, launches are occurring on a near monthly basis. Once these satellites are launched, they send data continuously, which is a very good thing. The downside is there aren’t enough people on the ground to collect that data.

But one organization has devised a way to make it easier for just about anyone to collect that data, and upload the information to a website for satellite operators and researches to access.

The SatNOGS (Satellite Networked Open Ground Station) project is a free software and open source hardware platform aimed to create a satellite ground station network. The goal is to create a stack of technologies needed for a distributed network of low earth orbit (LOE) satellite ground stations, broken up by four sub-projects:

  • A network
  • A database
  • The client (software to run on ground stations)
  • Ground stations (an open source hardware ground station based on 3D-printed components and readily available materials)

While space enthusiasts have been able to build their own ground stations for some time, up until now the result has typically been that you’d only have a limited window to receive data from your specific satellite as it sweeps across the sky.

With SatNOGS, however, the networked community makes it possible to constantly stay connected with satellites, no matter where they are, physically.

Not to mention most ground stations have been quite costly to create. SatNOGs has developed a way for these ground stations to be built for a fraction of what they once cost, and (as part of their open source foundation) share the instructions to build these stations with anyone who’s interested.

What does this mean for the future of space communication?

Affordable satellite and construction has been a welcomed advancement in space exploration and communication. However, limited funds and resources have made it nearly impossible for researchers to keep up with the delivered data sent from these orbits.

By inviting a larger public into the discussion – in an organized and accountable manner – science experts are able to widen their coverage area without expanding their budgets.

As IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) Spectrum noted:

“[SatNOGS] should allow much more comprehensive monitoring of satellite signals than anybody working in isolation could manage.”

For the non-professional space enthusiast, SatNOGS makes it possible to become a part of space exploration without the need for a hefty investment.

While inviting more people into collecting data sent from LOE satellites won’t likely help us to discover extraterrestrial life, hundreds of interesting projects worth tracking and listening to are happening in low earth orbit, and SatNOGS provides a robust platform to make it possible.