Winter 2008 Issue
article KD4HBO expands on an idea that Bob Twiggs, KB6QMD,
By Ivan Galysh, KD4HBO
The electronics inside one of the cansats.
Prof. Robert Twiggs, KE6QMD, of Stanford University, developed the concept of cansat in the late 1990s. The purpose of cansat was to allow students to experience a space program on a small, affordable scale. A cansat is a simulation of a satellite the size of a soda can. Students build a satellite that can fit into a soda can and perform some mission. The cansat is launched in a high-power rocket to an altitude such as 12,000 feet and is ejected from the rocket. The cansat floats back to Earth for several minutes, performing its mission and transmitting telemetry or accepting commands to perform specific tasks.
The first cansat launch occurred in 1999 in
Black Rock, Nevada. Over time, the cansat concept has spread around the
world. It has been used as a stepping stone to the cubesat satellite,
which was also developed by Prof. Twiggs. Cubesats are picosatellites
that can be as small as a 4-inch cube weighing a kilogram.
ARLISS, A Rocket Launch for International
Student Satellites, is where cansat started. Every year since 1999,
Stanford University, led by Prof. Twiggs and the AeroPac rocket club,
has launched cansats up to 12,000 feet for students from various
schools, including some in Japan. The launches are held in Black Rock.
Cansat designs have ranged from simple
temperature-measuring devices to robotic types.
In 2004 a university-level cansat
competition was created. The competition organizational committee
consisted of the American Astronautical Society, American Institute of
Aeronautics and Astronautics, Naval Research Laboratory, NASA Goddard
Space Flight Center, and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
The second launch was held in The Plains, Virginia with the same mission but a lower deployment altitude of 2000 feet. For this event 13 teams applied and seven made it to the launch. Two teams successfully completed the mission.
In 2007, the third competition was held in
Amarillo, Texas. The mission was changed to require more mechanical and
aerospace engineering efforts and less electronics. The cansats had to
land and be in an upright position. Twenty-six teams applied and 15
teams attended the competition, including a team from Hawaii. One team
successfully completed the mission, with a second team almost completing
it. Vegetation was an issue.
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