..and this is the story of the QUBIK mission. Picking up the thread of the narration from the very beginning, from assembling the satellites to them making it to space successfully.
This is the timeline of the events that narrate:
the transformation of arranged pieces
into flying PocketQubes
the assembling of scattered metal parts
into a ride in space
This is the story of how we went from scraps and pieces to space. ( in less than a year)
The QUBIK Mission: A Timeline
In early October 2021, the LSF teams embarked on building the new set of QUBIK satellites, part of the QUBIK series of PocketQubes created by the Organisation. On October 13th, the solar panel boards for the new QUBIK satellites were under assembly. The teams were working at hackerspace.gr, at the LSF lab, in downtown Athens, Greece.
19 October 2021: Production was ramping up, and the freshly-baked COMMS subsystems were ready to be used for the mission.
In November 2021, a number of streaming sessions were hosted on the LSF YouTube channel, broadcasting live the final steps of the satellites’ assembling process.
10 November 2021, The Final Assembly of the QUBIK PocketQubes was streaming live:
11 November 2021 was the time of the bake-out process:
As the year was drawing to an end, so did the process of finalising the building of the QUBIK Mission.
20 December 2021: PICOBUS Reloaded, satellites’ integration. In late December, the integration of the satellites into the PICOBUS deployer was also streamed live from the LSF channel on YouTube. During the 3-hour live integration, five satellites were integrated into the PICOBUS deployer. The satellites were AMSAT-EA’s satellites GENESIS-G and GENESIS-J, FOSSA Systems’ FOSSASAT-1B and LSF’s QUBIK-3 and QUBIK-4.
At the end of 2021, the PICOBUS was ready to be shipped to the US in a similar container.
With the shipping of the container to the US, the process of building the QUBIK mission was completed successfully. In the months leading to the launch, the teams were working on things regarding the mission. From collaborating with the Firefly team to optimising the reception and transmission of the satellite signals to vamping up the SatNOGS network of satellite ground stations.
To The Black
And so we fast forward to September 2022. The #ToTheBlack mission of Firefly Aerospace’s Alpha Flight 2 was originally scheduled to fly to space on September 11 2022. After being scrubbed twice in that month, the team at Firefly secured a new date for the beginning of October. And October it was!
On October 1st 2022, at 12:01 AM PDT-07:01 UTC, Firefly Aerospace’s Alpha Flight 2 experienced a nominal countdown and lift-off. Libre Space Foundation’s QUBIK mission was onboard.
The satellites integrated inside PICOBUS were set to be deployed at T+01:01:57. Shortly after, QUBIK-3 and QUBIK-4 were making their way through space. Just 30 seconds after the antenna deployment
, the QUBIK PocketQubes began transmitting their signal that was received using the SatNOGS network. The first signals were received by station “2623 – vk2pet ” in Western Australia.
A few minutes later, more signals were received from the SatNOGS network, and these are the waterfalls illustrating the first decoded data of the received signals.
These decoded data came from two different stations. QUBIK-3 was received by station 2550 – USU GAS, the ground station of the Utah State University, and QUBIK-4 by station 2461 – N1ESK-Loudon.
As the data kept rolling in, the dashboard was created. It illustrated the data received by the network.
The two satellites were making their way through space for two days, and their re-entry marked the end of the mission. You can find more details about it here.
The scope of the mission
Comprised of a set of PocketQubes and a PocketQube deployer, the QUBIK mission was built using open-source hardware and software. This constitutes PICOBUS, the first-ever open-source PocketQube deployer. The two PocketQubes, QUBIK-3 and QUBIK-4 were to be short-lived and were tasked to perform a series of experiments to explore further the possibilities of satellite identification and tracking. This would be possible by using amateur radio frequencies and extensively testing a number of hypotheses. A list of the amateur-radio experiments and an extended description of the scope of the mission can be found here. The findings of these experiments were also to be used to enhance the knowledge and contribute towards the development of SIDLOC. This is another project under active development that LSF has been working on, and its goal is to explore the creation of a proposed standard for the Identification and Localization of satellites and spacecraft alike.
The Libre Space Manifesto
…outer space accessible to everyone
With every LSF’s QUBIK satellite that has flown to space, the Libre Space Manifesto has travelled with it. The Libre Space Manifesto is a set of Principles about Space that inspires and guides all LSF operations.
You can read the full version of the Manifesto here or find its Principles etched on the ballasts of the QUBIK series of satellites.
Similarly-etched ballasts travelled to space inside QUBIK-3 and QUBIK-4.
Want to join a special Treasure Hunt in space?
Back in October 2021, when we were assembling the QUBIK PocketQubes, there were about 8 Bytes of FREE space left in our telemetry beacon. And what did we do? We decided to orchestrate a Treasure Hunt with our satellites. Inside their telemetry, we have placed a clue for you to find and join the hunt in space. If you find the clue hidden in the QUBIK mission, get in touch with us!
And do stay tuned for our next missions to locate the clues missing from the space hunt puzzle!
For us at Libre Space Foundation, the QUBIK mission was our return to space. And though short-lived, it still signifies a huge milestone for us to take great pride in. We made it to space for the second time, and we could not have done this without the opportunity offered to us by Firefly Aerospace, for which we are deeply grateful. We are also grateful to the entire LSF and SatNOGS community, paid and non-paid members and contributors who have toiled with us and dedicated their valuable time, expertise and effort to the mission. Thank you, everyone, for working hard with devotion to help make …outer space accessible to everyone!
Firefly Aerospace a few days ago announced the successful static fire test of the Firefly Alpha launch vehicle on its launchpad, preparing for its inaugural flight. On the final stage of this rocket, Firefly Aerospace engineers have integrated PicoBus, Libre Space Foundation’s open-source hardware PocketQube class satellite deployer, hosting several satellites including Qubik 1 and Qubik 2.
The Qubik twins as soon as they will be deployed in orbit will perform radio amateur experiments investigating various modulation schemes for performance and orbit determination.
Don’t hesitate to build your own. You will just need a couple of sheets of 65lb card stock paper (160gr/m2 might also work for you), glue, a colored printer and download the following PDF files for the paper model and instructions.
We recommend checking out all of Zach’s PaperSat Designs models, including UPSat, the previous open-source satellite mission Libre Space Foundation re-designed, integrated and delivered (PDFs of the model and instructions).
Libre Space Foundation (LSF) is devoted to designing and building open-source space technologies. We always support and promote space exploration, scientific research and knowledge. For the past year, we have been working hard on the QUBIK mission to create a platform on which a series of amateur radio experiments will be conducted, upon the mission’s launch.
Ιn a nutshell
For the QUBIK project, Libre Space Foundation has designed and developed two open-source PocketQube Satellites, QUBIK-1 and QUBIK-2. As part of the QUBIK mission, LSF has also designed and built PICOBUS; the first, open-source PocketQube deployer. The QUBIK PocketQubes along with AMSAT-EA’s GENESIS-L and GENESIS-N and Fossa Systems’ FOSSASAT-1 and FOSSAT-2 were integrated into the deployer and are part of Firefly Aerospace’s DREAM payloads program on its inaugural Firefly Alpha launch.
The Story so far
Over the past year, the PicoBus, as well as QUBIK-1 and QUBIK-2, underwent all the necessary standard testing and verification campaigns.
For example, by the first months of 2020, PICOBUS had undergone the thermal vacuum test and the vibration test. From there, it was time for assembling the PocketQubes and the deployer, and then the bake-out was in order. Shortly after, the Acceptance campaign took place for PICOBUS, and so did the Protoflight Campaign for QUBIK-1 and QUBIK-2. You can read more about the extensive testing and the processes that took place earlier in the year here.
While the hardware was undergoing all the testing, the software was polished and tested, too, aiming at enabling a series of fascinating amateur radio experiments.
The two PocketQubes, QUBIK-1 and QUBIK-2 are designed to have a short life span of 3-4 weeks. Though this period of time is relatively short, it is enough for LSF to run a series of amateur radio experiments. These are primarily scheduled to take place during the Launch, and Early Orbit Phase (LEOP) of the operations and the amateur radio experiments revolve around satellite identification and tracking. LEOP is a critical phase for satellites and spacecraft operations; since the sooner a team identifies and picks up communication with the satellite, the better it is for the entire operation. Identifying and tracking a satellite early on, almost upon deployment, helps the team to proceed fast and tackle possible problems arising. It is the significance of early identification and tracking and the impact this has on saving missions and operations that prompted LSF to decide to focus the scheduled experiments on that specific Phase of operations. By forming a series of assumptions about Satellite identification and tracking, LSF has set the objectives for experiments that need to be conducted in search of possible solutions.
Thus, QUBIK-1 and QUBIK-2 will set out to help explore the following objectives:
To unambiguously identify satellites as soon as possible after deployment
As we mentioned above, early satellite identification and tracking are of primary importance as they allow the operations team to act fast and address possible issues early on. Be it communications or altitude-related issues, they should be dealt with swiftly, especially since failure to do so promptly might render an operation unsuccessful. QUBIK-1 and QUBIK-2 are designed to enable easy RF Identification during the LEO Phase.
Generate or update existing orbital elements based on Doppler curve tracking of satellite transmissions
The process of identification and tracking becomes even more complicated. As is often the case, nanosatellites and microsatellites are deployed in numbers, many together, from the same launch vehicle and flying in the same orbit. Distinguishing between them and tracking is a daunting task, puzzling the teams as the operators of these satellites often rely only on external tracking alone. They rely on the only available public resource providing orbital elements, and that is the Combined Space Operations Center (CSpOC) (through their space-track.org dissemination website.) Nevertheless, things get even more perplexed for operators as, in addition to crowded deployments, the small radar cross-section makes identification via CSpOC quite a challenge. Both of these parameters are the cause of significant delays in the publishing of the initial orbital elements. It can take up to a few weeks to identify a satellite accurately, and sometimes it might not be identified at all.
For dealing with the issues of misidentification and no-identification at all, for the QUBIK PocketQubes, passive Doppler tracking will be utilised. This will be facilitated through SatNOGS (the global network of satellite ground stations) in order to independently determine orbital elements during the Launch and Early Orbit Phase.
Extensively explore objectives 1 and 2 and do so in a way that adheres to the Principles of the Libre Space Manifesto.
All LSF’s operations and projects are led forward by the Principles of the Libre Space Manifesto, which constitutes the operational framework of all LSF processes. This means that the objectives mentioned above will be explored accordingly; in a scalable and open-source way, with the data collected being distributed openly for everyone to have access.
Create a reusable, open-source PocketQube Platform.
At LSF, we have been focusing our attention on the PocketQube format, and for this, we have worked hard to build a reusable, open-source ProcketQube Platform with a complete stack of open-source technologies developed for it. This is because we see potential in the PocketQube format as it is versatile enough and low-cost, able to facilitate a wide variety of amateur radio experiments, payloads and to have a wide range of technology developed around it.
QUBIK-1 and QUBIK-2 will be used for testing, aiming at exploring the aforementioned objectives to the fullest. These will be investigated in-depth through a series of amateur radio experiments regarding the Identification and Tracking of Satellites.
This part of the amateur radio experiments focuses on radio beacons and Telemetry transmissions, and they include:
Digital modulation schemes may use a preamble or a postamble in order to provide narrow-band transmissions, which can help facilitate tracking from RF spectra. Distinguishing between satellites can be achieved by estimating the differences in preamble/postamble length. However, since preambles in most framing schemes are often the same, this constitutes a preamble not an ideal solution to allow unambiguous identification.
By demodulating and then decoding the signals captured, this approach allows for identification via a call sign or address within the packets. It requires full demodulation and decoding data chain. The assumptions required about SNR, RX sensitivity and RF collisions on narrow, non-spread-spectrum modulations will only compromise demodulation and decoding.
Note that this is one of the amateur radio experiments that LSF will be running as this does not require any changes to be made in the existing workflow. Thus, it will be introduced in QUBIK as a control case (since the team already utilizes it).
Identifying a satellite by estimating the differences in beacon length. In crowded deployments, as is the case of QUBIK-1 and QUBIK-2, this is not a scalable option.
Differences in beacon cadence can also help distinguish between satellites by estimating how often a beacon is transmitted. Though this approach helps prevent beacons and satellites from overlapping, it can not be applied in crowded operations.
Barker codes can be utilised to provide monotonic identification right from the RF level by performing only cross-correlation at the raw signal. Barker codes require only bit-level changes, and they can be used to facilitate lower SNR identification and decoding, identifying a spacecraft right from the PHY. However, for this approach to work, it would require ground stations to have multiple decoders operating in parallel. As the number of the decoders would have to be possibly equal to the number of different code sequences, this approach is not scalable for us to pursue.
Spread spectrum low power beacon
For this amateur radio experiment, the RILDOS proposed protocol was chosen, transmitting a beacon with low transmission power. The basic idea that we will explore is to use the spread sequences of the RILDOS protocol and retrieve a message from a satellite even in a negative SNR environment. What is more, with this amateur radio experiment LSF will attempt to explore possible techniques that can be applied to an SDR-based ground station estimating the frequency drift between the spacecraft and the ground station. The techniques applied will be estimated and evaluated on the grounds of their accuracy and whether the RILDOS protocol can be used for both identification and tracking.
Keep in mind that even though RILDOS requires 2 Mbps, in this experiment and due to hardware restrictions, RILDOS will be tested in lower bandwidth. In this case, the basic features of the protocol will remain intact while the performance in terms of BER is expected to be affected and possibly degraded.
This too, will be one of the amateur radio experiments that are scheduled to be conducted in QUBIK-1 and QUBIK-2.
The tracking of the QUBIK PocketQubes through their Doppler curves must be achieved by measuring transmitter frequency as a function of time. This can be determined directly either from waterfalls, the artifacts provided by the observations made by the SatNOGS Network or by demodulating transmissions. Tracking waterfalls does work well for lower signal strengths, but when it comes to digital modulation schemes, it gets harder to obtain the transmitter frequency. This becomes difficult when transmissions of satellites overlap.
Waterfalls can facilitate satellite tracking for any modulation scheme with narrow-band features. CW would provide the highest accuracy at the expense of low bit rates.
By using a preamble or a postamble, digital modulation schemes can provide narrow-band features in the waterfalls. Examples of this approach are the BPSK transmissions of Funcube satellites or the FSK transmissions like those of UWE-4 or Firebird-4.
The residual carrier is a strong carrier found on top of the modulation spectrum mask as it runs for the entire frame duration. Usually, the residual carrier is utilised to drive the PLL that tracks any frequency drift that can be retrieved either from the RF level or visually.
Since the RF IC of QUBIK (AX5043) does not support an optional residual carrier, LSF will opt for an alternative yet innovative approach. By using QPSK with special precoding, it can be forced to use only two of the QPSK symbols. This produces a DC-biased BPSK, which eventually will have a carrier at the center of the spectrum mask. What makes this approach possible is the absence of a DC block filter on AX5043.
If you want to have a look at the amateur radio experiments in more detail, you can read the documentation.
The latest Updates: Final QUBIK-1 and QUBIK-2 Testing and PICOBUS Integration
The QUBIK team has been developing and testing the software throughout the summer, updating and implementing features; following strict procedures so that the QUBIK project is ready for the final testing and integration. The last weekend of October 2020, was an exciting one, for us at Libre Space Foundation because not only did the final testing of the PocketQubes take place but also because of the integration of the PocketQubes in the PicoBus deployer.
Both procedures took place at the LSF Headquarters, at hackerspace.gr, in the centre of Athens, Greece and were carefully orchestrated and successfully carried out while being streamed live on the LSF YouTube Channel.
The PicoBus Deployer with the six integrated PocketQubes will be shipped to the US.
Firefly’s Aerospace Alpha launch is expected to happen as early as Dec. 22, with room in the schedule to launch as late as Jan. 31.
For us, at Libre Space Foundation, the QUBIK is an aspiring project of which we are immensely proud. It is a self-funded initiative to create an ideal environment for testing and conducting amateur radio experiments. All the technology stacks used and the tools created are open-source. The solutions to be found (if any) will further enhance and enable a wide variety of amateur radio experiments, payloads, technology development and missions.
All these are governed by and conform to the Libre Space Manifesto, and its Principles found etched on the QUBIK PocketQubes.
September 2022, Update:
PocketQubes QUBIK-1 and QUBIK-2, along with the PICOBUS deployer, were onboard the Alpha Flight when that was launched on September 2nd 2021. That flight was controlled terminated two minutes into the launch.
QUBIK Mission Reloaded: heading back to space
LSF’s team of engineers began working on building a new set of twin PocketQubes, QUBIK-3 and QUBIK-4, and a new PICOBUS deployer, as Firefly Aerospace kindly provided Libre Space Foundation with another launching opportunity. To this opportunity, the QUBIK Mission is joined by AMSAT-EA’s satellites GENESIS-G/ASTROLAND-1 and GENESIS-J/ ASTROLAND-2, and FOSSA Systems FOSSASAT-1B. The integration of the satellites into the deployer took place in December 2021 at hackerspace.gr, and it was streamed live.
The QUBIK Mission reloaded is scheduled to fly in orbit onboard Firefly Aerospace’s Flight 2 #ToTheBlack from the Vandenberg Space Force base in California, USA. The launch is scheduled for the 11th of September 2022.
October 2022, Update:
The mission was launched successfully on October 1, 2022 and you can read all about it here.
Libre Space Foundation is devoted to the vision of open-source technologies in space, and for this, we often join forces with researchers, individuals, and teams who share this vision with us. One exciting project we have taken up is the QUBIK Project.
A few words about the Project
Our love for space has brought us in collaboration with Firefly Aerospace and the DREAM payloads program. This is a global competition to host academic and educational payloads as rideshare participants on the inaugural flight of the Firefly Alpha launch vehicle. For this project, we have been working together with FOSSA Systems and AMSAT EA. We have developed two PocketQube satellites, QUBIK-1 and QUBIK-2, and PICOBUS, a PocketQube deployer.
The satellites are expected to have a short lifespan of up to 3 weeks of orbit. Regardless of how short-lived they will be, though, they are built to perform Amateur radio experimentation. While those amateur radio experimentations will be taking place, the SatNOGS network of ground stations will be receiving signals from these satellites. By exploiting Doppler Variations, the network of ground stations will perform orbit determination and satellite identification as early as possible. This will utilize the benefits and the capabilities of the SatNOGS network to the fullest and demonstrate the Space Situational Awareness aspect of it.
How the Project has been progressing for the last few months
On the 12th of December 2019, the thermal vacuum test for the PICOBUS took place at Instituto Nacional de Técnica Aeroespacial, and on the 16th of the same month, the vibration test was conducted at the NanoSat Lab of the Polytechnic University of Catalunya. A few months later, on the 8th of February 2020, our team working at Hackerspace.gr completed the assembly of the PICOBUS and QUBIK-1 and QUBIK-2. The next day marked the bake out day for the project at the Institute of Electronic Structure and Laser. Lastly, on the 12th of February 2020, at the NanoSat Lab, the vibration acceptance campaign took place for PICOBUS, and so did the Protoflight campaign for QUBIK-1 and QUBIK-2. At this point in the process, the software is being developed so that the project will be able to facilitate all the amateur radio experiments that need to be carried out.
QUBIK-1, QUBIK-2, and the PICOBUS deployer form an exciting project for which we have worked hard, and we have collaborated with inspiring teams. As the development draws to completion we are excited to see what this project will achieve.
Libre Space Foundation is proud to announce that it is currently developing and integrating 2 pocketqube satellites (QUBIK-1 & QUBIK-2) and supplying a pocketqube deployer (PICOBUS) to be flown as part of the DREAM payloads program on the inaugural Firefly Alpha launch from Firefly Aerospace.
Scheduled for launch around the end of the first quarter 2020 we are delighted to be taking part in this exciting mission.
The LSF contributors have been busy developing both the pocketqubes from scratch as well as the innovative deployment system that features a constant force spring design and, of course, all developments are being carried out using open source methodologies and licenses.
The satellites are expected to be short-lived with only ~3 weeks of predicted orbit lifespan. This short timeframe will be enough though for the communications experiment they are tasked to perform. Specifically, the satellites will be conducting a series of telecommunication related experiments, while at the same time, ground station analysis of the received signals will try to exploit doppler variations in order to perform orbit determination and satellite identification from radio amateur stations around the world. The telecommunication experiments will use several different modulation, coding and framing schemes, with the intention to provide insights about their performance at nano-pico-satellite missions. In addition, the frame itself will be organized in such a way so spacecraft identification can be performed as early as possible from the physical layer.
It’s a tight timeframe of only 4 months from inception to delivery and the team is working incredibly hard to design, build and test all the parts for this mission while being on track to deliver the satellites and deployer on time for integration and ready for launch, helping us further our mission to claim space the libre way.