'Space nut' looks skyward with Web-funded satellite

A Silicon Valley group is turning to the Internet to fund the launch of a satellite being built in a Silicon Valley workshop

IDG News Service |  Science

Back at the TechShop in Menlo Park, DeBenedictis is examining a sheet made of mylar, a very thin type of polyester.

"You can't really see a satellite the size of a coffee cup in orbit but you can see a large satellite, so how do we make our satellite large?" he said, eyeing the mylar sheet. "We've put a balloon on board and that will inflate with an 8-gram carbon dioxide cartridge to 3 meters across, and suddenly our little tiny satellite has become the size of the Hubble space telescope."

While missed by many, it's relatively easy to see large satellites like the Hubble or the International Space Station as they pass though the evening sky. As dusk falls, the spacecraft are still illuminated by the sun, making them as bright as the brightest stars. There are websites devoted to helping people identify them and DeBenedictis hopes his funders will get special excitement from seeing the satellite they helped pay for.

"You'll get an alert on your phone saying, 'Look up now,' and there it is."

The balloon will serve double duty, slowing the satellite so that it falls toward Earth and burns up in the atmosphere at the end of its three-month mission.

Martyn Williams covers mobile telecoms, Silicon Valley and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is martyn_williams@idg.com

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