Faulty Clock Might Doom Crowdfunded KickSat Satellite

KickSat CubeSat 310x

Kickstarted satellite project might fall victim to irradiated master clock.

It’s been a few years since KickSat successfully funded through Kickstarter — just under $75,000 to send a bunch of tiny, programmable satellites into Earth’s low orbit.

But that Sprite dream might be dashed, as the KickSat holding all of the crowdfunded satellites has been hit with a serious timing problem.

According to the latest post on KickSat’s Kickstarter page, the microcontroller in charge of the master clock and subsystem booting went through some sort of crash.

“…the packets we’ve been receiving have changed in the last couple of days,” said project leader Zachary Manchester. “This was due to a hard reset of the ‘watchdog’ microcontroller on KickSat – the sort of ‘reptile brain’ of the satellite that manages turning on and off the rest of the subsystems and keeps the master clock. It appears the reset happened some time in the morning of Wednesday, April 30th. The reset doesn’t seem to be the result of power issues (the watchdog should run until the batteries reach 5.5 volts, and they’ve been holding steady around 6.5 volts). Instead, it seems the likely culprit was radiation.”

With the master clock reset, the KickSat has reset its Sprite deployment back to 16 days from the reset. The problem? The mother KickSat is set to re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere before that 16-day period is over, taking all the Sprite units with it.

There are two possibilities for KickSat that could keep the Sprites on-track, however; if the batteries recharge enough in the next few days, the satellite could be taken under manual control. If that doesn’t work, there’s an outside chance that KickSat could hold onto its orbit long enough for the Sprites to be released. Hopefully one of these two things happens, because it would be shame for so many satellites to go to waste.

About the author