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Archive for July, 2014

Satellite Crowdfunding, Then and Now

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014

Did you know that the first satellite sent up by the United States was originally planned to be crowdfunded? Did you also know that the newest amateur satellite sent up in the third quarter of next year will be crowdfunded as well?

While researching a project on how fringe physics ideas make the transition to the mainstream, I came across this gem of a magazine from 1958.

The magazine’s first article discussed the birth of the Earth Satellite Vehicle, (ESV), program, as it was called at the time.  The main players followed by the article were Fred Singer, Andy Haley, and George Trimble.  Fred was an up and coming physicists from the University of Maryland, Andy was the head of the American Rocket Society, and George was an engineer working for Martin Aerospace who would one day become the deputy director of NASA.

A few year before the article was published, Trimble and Singer, lamenting that they might not be able to garner support from either industry or the government for a satellite program, hatched a plan to crowdfund the United States’ first fledgeling step into outer space.  Trimble said:

“We were going to sell shares, at five bucks per head.  In return, we were going to give the shareholders each a photograph of the Earth from outer space, taken by a camera in the satellite. That’s all they would get, but we felt that a lot of people should be interested in the view  and that we ought to be able to raise five or ten million dollars in this way – eenoughto send up a half dozen satellites, we thought.  But we never found time to organize the project.”

Fortunately for all of us who are fascinated with the U.S. space program in its many incarnations, the reason Trimble and Singer ran out of time was that the satellite project finally did gain financial backing due to the efforts of Trimble’s friend Andy Haley.  The American Rocket Society with Andy at its helm  had submitted two proposals to the National Science Foundation for satellite launch projects.  The first proposal was dismissed, but this didn’t dissuade the society who simply resubmitted the following year.  Finally, Andy received a head’s up that the project would happen, albeit under a different guise, as Project Vanguard.  Where did he receive the head’s up?  At a tea party for the Queen of England in Washington D.C. of course.  It could be that science was way more fun in the 1950′s!


AMSAT is launching three cube satellites, designated the Fox series, in partnership with American universities.  The universities will place science experiments on each of the Fox cubesats.  Each experiment will use the cubesat’s onboard transceiver to communicate data and control telemetry with ground based experimental stations.  Once the experiments are complete, the satellite will be switched into an FM repeater mode which amateur radio operators can make use of to reflect their communications to other operators stations located over the horizon, completely obliviating the need for something like Operation Smoke Puff.

A few of the experiments that will be launched on the Fox satellites are a gyroscopic MEMs experiment from Penn State to determine how much the satellite wobbles while in orbit, and an experiment from Vanderbilt, (see picture below), that will detect the flux of low energy protons that impact the satellite.  Low energy protons are a concern in outer space, where, without the Earth’s atmosphere acting as a shield, the protons can actually damage spaceborne electronics.

And the Pitch!

As it turns out, AMSAT needs an extra $125k to get the Fox-1c satellite into space.  If you’d like to help out, you can donate at  You can also follow all the news on the development of the little satellite at

References and Notes of Interest:

George Trimble on Nixon and the Plaque on the Moon:

Amateur Satellites that flew over the U.S. during the writing of this article:




The Satellite Magazine
Mallan, L. (1958). Space satellites (How to book 364). Greenwich, CT: Fawcett Publications

View Amateur Satellite Orbits in real-time

Help Save HAARP

Wednesday, July 16th, 2014

Millions of conspiracy theorists are about to lose their number one climate change explanation. The United States Air Force, with very little fanfare, and almost no mention in the press, has begun dismantling HAARP, the High frequency Active Auroral Research Program.  The HAARP antenna field and associated high frequency, (HF), transmitters were purportedly used to:

…”analyze the ionosphere and investigate the potential for developing ionospheric enhancement technology for radio communications and surveillance.”[1]

Or at least that’s what the government would have us believe.  Almost since it’s inception, HAARP, which can beam gigawatts of HF power into the ionosphere, was blamed for all manner of things, including tornadoes, earthquakes, and the occasional air or space disaster.  Oh, and I almost forgot, (or did I?), it’s also been hypothesized to provide the government with mind control capabilities.

Amid the recent sequesters, the Air Force decided that it would be more cost effective to shut down the $300 million dollar facility.  Alaska Sen Lisa Murkowski, has pointed out[2] to the Air Force and to Congress that it costs less than one percent of the stated value of the facility to operate it each year.  Scientists and amateur radio operators have pointed out that the facility should be saved for its scientific research value.

Senator Murkowski

Secretary James

It appears that the repeated requests for a scientific safeguarding of HAARP have not fallen on somnolent ears.  On July 2nd, Deborah Lee James, sent correspondence[3][pdf] to Sen Murkowski indicating that HAARP would be saved from the chopping block for at least another year.  She did maintain however that the Air Force would continue to remove non-essential equipment and winterize the facility in order to reduce costs.

For a far more scientific and less jovial take on all of this, please see the recent press release on HAARP[4] form the American Radio Relay League, (ARRL).

A letter writing campaign led by Dr. Christopher Fallen, KL3WX, of the Geophysical Institute, Space Physics at University of Alaska Fairbanks helped delay the demolition of HAARP for one year.  If you’d like to get involved with science and your government, and help to save HAARP, here’s your chance.  Dr. Fallen suggests modifying this template letter, with your information, and sending it to the Secretary of Defense, as well as to your congressional representatives and Senator Murkowski.  The template is rather specific to ham radio operators, so some readers may have to modify it more than others.  In my experience, when you contact your representative, they send you a reply on especially nice congressional letterhead.  It’s cool, and your kids will love it!  Heck, if nothing else, this might be among the strangest requests your representative has ever received.  Dr. Fallen also passed along this link to a HAARP happenings Facebook page.  The page contains posts about actual science going on at HAARP as well as the latest conspiracies and the status of the effort to save the facility.

In addition to the letter writing campaign, I think a bumper sticker in support of HAARP would be a nice gesture.  I’ve laid out a few possible slogans below.  Please vote for your favorite, or, even better propose your own HAARP saving slogan!

1.Don’t Let Taos Go Quietly into that Dark Night!  Harbor The Hum!  Save HAARP!

2. Help Save HAARP!  Better Living Through Mind Control.

3.  Seal the Science!  Help Save HAARP!



1.  Wikipedia on HAARP 

2.  Murkowski on HAARP

3.  Air Force Secretary James’ letter to Senator Murkowski


5.  Cool research done at HAARP:  Ionospheric Ducts 

6.  Dr. Christopher Fallen’s template letter for imploring your congressman to save HAARP

7.  HAARP Happenings