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Mission 2: Satellite Testing and Payload Integration

Published onSep 23, 2019
Mission 2: Satellite Testing and Payload Integration

In this Mission, we will put our designs to the test. Designing small spacecrafts for space environments requires rigorous on-earth testing, leading to many cycles of iteration. We’ll learn how to mimic some of these testing strategies, as well as integrate our payload into the cubesats. We’ll also learn how to use the raspberry pi hardware for taking images.

Example Payloads

There are different payloads you can use. Example payloads include art materials, micro:bits, and Raspberry Pi micro-controllers wired to small cameras.

Space Art

Space art requires no technology to collect data. This payload is inspired by the work of a MIT Media Lab researcher. Patrons can put any marking tool (oil pastels, paint, etc.), and notice what marks are created while the payload is in the air.

Space art setup at a drop-in workshop.

If you’d like, download the instructional poster here:

Some example art made from our playtests:

View of the payload before launch…

Payload of marbles, cotton balls, rubber bands, and paint post-launch!

Space art created by only vertical movement of the payload.

Space art created by only horizontal movement of the payload.

Space art created by both vertical and horizontal movement of the payload.

micro:bit + Scratch

You can also use a micro:bit as the payload, and use Scratch to collect and show data. There are a couple of ways the micro:bit can send data to Scratch (get started here: We got creative with ours, by having Scratch draw out a path of an astronaut using the micro:bit’s tilt data:

Drawing a path in Scratch from micro:bit data

Scratch code for the project here:

This is something we’d like to keep playing with, so let us know if you use micro:bit and Scratch (and share us your code)!

Raspberry Pi + Cam

We also use Public Lab’s Infragram Pi-camera. All the information you will need is on their website:

Infragram photo from a balloon launch workshop at MIT.

Note: Something we’ve run into while having multiple pi-cameras is that each camera has the same wifi name (00-PiCam). This means that cameras might reconnect to different computers randomly. This is something the Public Lab community and we are working on! Stay tuned…

…And Beyond!

We’re curious to play with more payloads, whether it be different sensors (e.g. air quality), or different boards (e.g., Arduino). Please share with us if you try something else!

Satellite Testing

Testing of patrons’ cube satellites can happen both during Mission 1 and Mission 2, as people iterate through multiple designs.

Some example tests include a weight test, a drop test, and a structural integrity test

We used a variety of tools to test cube satellites in our workshops: scales, rulers, books for weights, a shake machine, etc. We will set up tests around the space so they are always available for patrons to try throughout the workshop.

A patron doing a shake test with their cube satellite.

Create your own tests with your patrons depending on what they are interested in!

Example Schedule + Materials:

For a 90 minute session:

10 minutes - Settling in

  • Let teams find their cube satellites and continue working on them.

10 minutes - Check-in with each team, + talk about the day’s plan while other teams continue to build + test

  • Show + explain the available satellite testing stations

  • Show + explain the different payload options -> have multiple examples of each to share

60 minutes - Open build and test time

  • facilitators walking around to help prepare payloads, answer questions.

  • teams should be ready for lift off by end of the session

10 minutes - Coming back together, share out, and talking about next session

  • sharing logistics about launch day


  • more building materials

  • scissors, box cutters

  • stations for satellite testing around the space (scale, heavy books/weights, etc.)

  • example payloads for people to reference (pi-cam, etc.)

  • computers for payload programming (Chromebooks OK for pi-cam, but not for micro:bit + Scratch)

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