Southern Stars, MacTech let you interact with SkyCube satellite

Southern Stars, the leading provider of mobile applications for amateur astronomy, and MacTech Magazine, the journal for Apple technologies, have jointly announced the world’s first personal, interactive satellite mission.

SkyCube will allow everyone, all over the world, to participate in its launch, “tweet” messages, and obtain pictures of the earth from space. MacTech is the project’s first corporate sponsor.

“We want to create a space exploration experience that everyone can be a part of,” says Tim DeBenedictis, Southern Stars founder. “We are developing a nano-satellite, and mobile apps to go with it, as the focus for a global education and public outreach campaign.”

The satellite is a 10x10x10 cm “1U” CubeSat intended for launch as a secondary payload on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in 2013. Orbiting more than 300 miles up, on a path highly inclined to the earth’s equator, SkyCube will pass over most of the world’s inhabited regions.

SkyCube will take low-resolution pictures of the earth and broadcast simple messages uploaded by sponsors. After 90 days, it will inflate a 10-foot (3-meter) diameter balloon. SkyCube’s balloon will make the satellite as bright as the Hubble Space Telescope or a first-magnitude star.

“You’ll be able to see it with your own eyes, sailing across the sky,” explains DeBenedictis. “It will not only give people a bit of the sense of awe that so many of us have felt seeing a Space Shuttle launch, but it will add to it some personal ‘owership’ of the feeling,” said Neil Ticktin, editor-in-chief/publisher of MacTech Magazine.

The balloon is coated with titanium dioxide powder to make it “super-sparkly-and-reflective, catch the sunlight, and make itself visible from the twilight areas of the Earth’s surface before it goes into darkness around our night side,” he adds. The goal is to create a real “wow” event.

“People will have been ‘tweeting’ from it, and taking pictures, and interacting with it for many weeks/months — and then, finally, they’ll be able to see it,” says DeBenedictis. “That’s their own satellite, crossing by overhead. It will create credibility and concreteness to the project, and hopefully, inspire thousands of kids to do something with their lives other than working part time behind a counter.”

However, SkyCube’s balloon isn’t just for visibility. It will — within three weeks after deployment — bring SkyCube down from orbit due to atmospheric drag, ending the mission cleanly in a fiery “grand finale” that avoids any buildup of space debris.

SkyCube will also send out a data pings every 10 seconds. This will allow subscribers to broadcast messages or “tweet from space.” Each message is 120 characters in length.

“You will be able tweet your wife from space to let her know you will be late for dinner,” jokes DeBenedictis.

“What attracted MacTech to support SkyCube was the prospect that anyone could be involved. MacTech has always been about bringing the community together, and SkyCube demonstrates the best of this,” says Ticktin. “At MacTech Conference (Oct. 17-19, 2012 in Los Angeles), we’ll be doing some fun stuff around this project and giving the Apple technical community a great opportunity to be a part of history.”

The SkyCube project is using Kickstarter to allow millions of people worldwide to be a part of democratized space exploration. For details, go to

The SkyCube mobile app will be available on the iTunes Store, Google Play, and on any web browser. The basic sponsorship to participate in the mission is US$1, which will allow the sponsor to tweet one message from space. There are several tiers of sponsorship available with the SkyCube Mission that people can choose from.

Packages range from sending messages and getting pictures to viewing the launch live and actually commanding SkyCube for a day in space. Additionally, corporate sponsorships are available that include a logo on the inflatable balloon.

Southern Stars ( has already pioneered applications for astronomy with its SkySafari apps, and has changed the way people view the night sky.

“Apps let people interact in a very personal way with a powerful computer that they have on them all the time,” says DeBenedictis. “The concept of picking up a smart phone and getting pictures from space is novel. It isn’t the same as watching it on TV or reading about it.”

He says he came up with the idea for SkyCube because he loves space. In fact, both DeBenedictis and Ticktin are “space nuts”. DeBenedictis had never seen a space shuttle launch until last year when a friend won tickets to go see the final Atlantis launch. Ticktin has seen almost every Shuttle in person, and took his son to see the final Atlantis launch as well last year.

“With Atlantis we succeeded, but it was bittersweet, because it was the end of an era,” says DeBenedictis. “It mirrored my feelings about the space program (and to some degree America) as well: we’ve done all this great stuff in the past, but where are we now? We’ve lost focus. NASA is dying.”

Around the same time, Southern Stars’ iPhone apps really started to take off. At that time the company first started talking about building theirt own rocket, but quickly determined that was impractical.

“Doing some research, we came across the CubeSat concept, and determined that was within our budget and technical capability,” says DeBenedictis. “So we just went for it.”

Ticktin announced today that MacTech Conference (October 17-19, 2012 in Los Angeles) will have some “fun stuff” surrounding SkyCube. And, that between now and July 31, 2012, anyone that registers for MacTech Conference at the pre-registration rate ($999) will receive a SkyCube sponsor package that includes:

* sponsorship of 10 minutes of the mission (including bragging rights)
* ability to broadcast 60 “text messages” from space
* ability to request up to six images from the satellite (looking at Earth from space)
* SkyCube mission T-shirt

Register for MacTech Conference at

For more information on SkyCube, see

Some additional pictures…