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Fourth time's the charm for KickSat radio satellite launch

SpaceX Dragon cargo ship launch on April 18 in Florida.
SpaceX Dragon cargo ship launch on April 18 in Florida.
courtesy of NASA TV

After several failed launch attempts, a futuristic amateur satellite funded by the website "Kickstarter" is finally in orbit.

KickSat, a student-built device carrying 104 wafer-size transmitters, was launched Friday, April 18 aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 cargo rocket from Cape Canaveral in Florida.

Friday's launch was the fourth attempt to get the SpaceX Dragon craft off the ground for its third resupply mission to the International Space Station. The others were hampered by technical and weather problems.

KickSat, one of five satellites hitching a ride on SpaceX, is overseen by Cornell engineering graduate student Zac Manchester, who has made the project his life's work for the past several years.

Manchester, who invented the miniature circuit board "sprite" transmitters, began fundraising in 2011 and raised more than $74,000 through 315 donors on

His blog can be read at this link.

The breadbox sized KickSat was expected to begin sending signals back to its mission control station in Ithica, New York within an hour of launch.

On or around May 4, the 104 tiny wafer-like circuits called "sprites" will be jettisoned into space and transmit data of their own, until they fall out of orbit a couple of weeks later.

"It's been a wild ride these last couple of years, but so far it's worked out," Manchester told the website

"They're packed in individual slots in the deployer on KickSat," Manchester said of the miniature sprites. "They're spring-loaded and when they get deployed, they're just released and they get flung out of the slots," he said.

KickSat will be transmitting position information on the frequency of 437.505 MHz, and the sprites will transmit on 437.24 MHz using ham radio packet software.

Manchester will offer prizes - mission patches and sample sprites - for the first people to receive telemetry from the satellites, according to

Micro-satellites could be the wave of the future, experts say, because their size makes them relatively easy and inexpensive to launch.

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