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So You Want Your Own Satellite

Here is what you need to know about building your own satellite.

You might have your own phone, tablet, or computer. Maybe some combination of all three. You can communicate with anyone all over the globe. Something is helping you with that though, or a lot of some things, really: satellites. When we think of satellites, we often think of NASA and astronauts. There are around 6,500 satellites in orbit—about half of which are inactive. The vast majority of those are privately owned.

That means you could technically own your own satellite. So if you’re ever in the market, here is what you’re going to need to know to buy your own satellite.

Step 1) Know why you need a satellite.

There are a lot of different satellites orbiting Earth. There are weather satellites to track everything from temperature to wind speed. Communication satellites for everything from the internet to television. Maybe you want to map every street in the world; there are satellites for that too (you can play with those on Google Earth).satalite

Once you figure out why you need a satellite, you’ll be able to move on to the next step.

Step 2) Approval.

You can’t just launch anything you want into space. As mentioned before, there are a lot of satellites floating around up there as space junk. The Federal Aviation Administration is going to have to eventually approve the launch. The Federal Communications Commission is going to weigh in on a communication satellite. NASA will be involved. And the Department of Defense might have something to say.

You might not need full approval before you start building, though. The launch is more flexible; it’s more about finding the right window. But once you get all those ducks in a row, it’s time to start looking for someone to build your satellite.

Step 3) Find a builder.

Most people don’t have the expertise needed to build an object that is going to survive the launch into space and then do its job while transmitting data back to earth. Luckily there are a few companies that will build them for you. All for the right price: the price they set. And it’s expensive.

Groups are trying to reduce the cost of satellites, even a few GoFundMe projects out there. But the next part is where you’ll still be spending a lot: the launch.

Step 4) Find a ride.

Even for the small, prebuilt satellites being promised from some companies, the cost to get them to orbit is still a lot. Most satellites are launched in groups. Sharing one rocket helps bring the cost of the whole project down. And since most satellites are small enough for this, it’s pretty common. As little as $40,000 will get your satellite into orbit.

A lot of this cost has been brought down since it’s not only NASA launching rockets anymore. With Companies like Space X getting involved, the cost of launching satellites has dropped.

Step 5) Collect your data.

The whole point of putting a satellite in orbit is to collect some kind of information, or data. Back when we first started putting satellites in space, they shot canisters with the data back to Earth. Now, you’ll need some kind of ground control station. Drive past a television station and you’ll see huge ground-mounted dishes—those are receiving signals from TV satellites in orbit. Some satellites communicate with radio signals—you won’t need as big of a dish, but you’ll still need a big set-up to talk with your new satellite.

If you want to work with satellites when you grow up, one of your best bets is to get into some engineering field. Astronomy is another field where you’ll have a good chance of working with satellites. There are other options, but one thing is the same, you’ll need good grades, so stay focused and keep those grades up!

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