Help Track Data from CubeSail with an RTL-SDR

On December 16 Rocket Lab launched 13 new cubesats into orbit via it's Electron rocket which was launched from New Zealand. One of those Cubesats is "CubeSail" which is a set of two satellites that aims to deploy a 260 m long solar sail between the two.

CubeSail is a technology demonstration by CU Aerospace which shows the viability of solar sail propulsion for deep space missions. It was built and is operated by students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign through the Satellite Development, or SatDev student organization.

Over on Reddit, one of the engineers working on the Cubesail project has put out a request to help receive and upload any telemetry that you receive from the Cubesail satellite. Currently they only have one ground station which makes monitoring the satellite difficult as they can only collect data when it is passing overhead.  By employing the help of radio enthusiasts from around the world they hope to gather more data. He writes:

Hello amateur radio enthusiasts! I'm part of the CubeSail mission, one of the 13 satellites deployed early this morning (2018/12/16) from RocketLab's Electron rocket.

The reason why I'm posting is that we need your help! We're trying to gather as much data as possible from the beacons, but only have one groundstation at the moment. I've put together a little Python script which can be used to decode the data, so if you're interested and willing to help out a bunch of eager fellow space enthusiasts to get some data, please try and get a packet or two!


Here's the information you need to know (let me know if I'm missing anything):

Frequency: 437305 kHz

Modulation: GFSK (GR3UH scrambling)

Bandwidth: 15kHz

Callsign: WI2XVF

Link Layer: AX.25/HDLC

Baud Rate: 9600

TLE:

cubesail_temp
1 99999U          18350.31100694  .00048519  00000-0  21968-2 0 00004
2 99999 085.0351 178.2861 0013006 291.7248 120.7146 15.20874873000012

Here's a link to the decoder, it runs in Python 3: https://github.com/ijustlovemath/cubesail-decoder

According to the information a 437 MHz antenna is required, and most likely it will need to be a directional antenna that is hand or motor tracked. Some SatNOGS ground stations are already receiving and recording Cubesail data too.

An artists rendition of the CubeSail solar sail deployment
An artists rendition of the CubeSail solar sail deployment

7 comments

  1. Bendail Vam

    I certainly hope when ET decides to drop by; that forward thinking people like these folks are the ones that make first contact.

  2. Jonny Annonymous

    So you Launch 13 satellites into space without the capability to track them?
    No wonder there is so much junk in orbit around our planet!
    And what happens if one of these cubes damage a commercial satellite.
    Who would foot that bill?
    Crazy!

    • Bendail Vam

      um about 15,000 mile apogee of separation would kinda give the comsats quite a cushion…put your aluminum foil hat back on and oh ya…Hillarious LOST.

    • Dave H

      > So you Launch 13 satellites into space without the capability to track them?

      They can track the swarm as a unit right after launch. The sats drift apart over time, then they’re able to distinguish the individual units.

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