Zac Manchester and KickSat
KickSat Sprite prototype

KickSat was a satellite dispenser for small-satellite (femtosatellite) project inaugurated in early October 2011, to launch many very small satellites from a 3U CubeSat. The satellites have been characterized as being the size of a large postage stamp.[1][2] and also as "cracker size".[3] The mission launch was originally scheduled for late 2013[4] and was launched April 18, 2014.[5][6]

Kicksat reached its orbit and transmitted beacon signals that were received by radio amateurs. Telemetry data allowed the prediction of the orbit and the reentry on May 15, 2014, at about 01:30 UTC. Due to a non-redundant design, a timer reset while on-orbit and the femtosatellites were not deployed in time, and burned up inside the KickSat mothership when the undeployed satellite-deployment mechanism reentered Earth's atmosphere. It is one of several crowdfunded satellites launched during the 2010s.[7]


The project was crowdfunded through Kickstarter.[8][9][10] The project was advertised with the goal of reducing the cost of spaceflight so that it could be affordable on an individual basis.[11][12][13][14]


In its minimal configuration, each Sprite femtosatellite will be designed to send a very short message (a few bytes long) to a network of ground stations.[15] The chipset of use is a TI CC430F5137 (MCU + RF) with codebase from panStamp. Firmware developer kits were sent to donors who contributed enough to qualify for customizing their own Sprite.[16]

Sprites can be organized into fleets; one of them was to be named for the British Interplanetary Society.[17] London Hackspace had begun work on its own ground station.[18]

Inaugural mission

KickSat launched on an ISS commercial resupply mission, SpaceX CRS-3, originally scheduled for late 2013,[4] but ultimately delayed until April 18, 2014.[19] On April 30, 2014, the microcontroller managing the master clock was found to have reset due to a technical problem, an effect of space radiation. This reset added two weeks to the deployment schedule for the sprites, and started a race against time to charge KickSat's battery enough to power deployment of the sprites before KickSat began atmospheric reentry. On May 14, 2014, KickSat reentered the atmosphere and burned up; all sprites were lost.[20]

Other missions

Sprites were launched on board the Space Shuttle Endeavour during STS-134 in May 2011, and spent three years mounted to the outside of the ISS as part of the eighth Materials International Space Station Experiment. Upon their return to Earth, they were still functional. This verified the design could survive the space environment for far longer than the planned nominal mission length.

In 2016, the KickSat Sprite was discussed as an early-stage prototype of the interstellar probe proposed for Breakthrough Starshot.[21]

On June 23, 2017, the PSLV-C38 launch carried 31 satellites into low Earth orbit. Among them were Max Valier, built by OHB of (Germany) and Venta-1 which were carrying six sprite spacecraft as secondary payloads.[22][23]

After being shortlisted in February 2015 by NASA under its CubeSat Launch Initiative, KickSat-2 was launched aboard Cygnus NG-10 SS John Glenn on November 17, 2018.[24][25] After detaching from the ISS, the free-flying Cygnus spacecraft deployed KickSat-2 at an altitude of 300 km on February 13, 2019.[26] KickSat-2 established communication with ground controllers soon after, reporting good health despite a weaker than expected signal.[27] On March 18, 2019, KickSat-2 deployed 105 Sprites which successfully transmitted data before reentering the atmosphere.[28][29][30][31]


  1. ^ Radu Tyrsina (October 11, 2011). "KickSat to Launch Postage Stamp-sized Satellites into Space for $300". Mobile Magazine. Archived from the original on October 14, 2011. Retrieved October 16, 2011.
  2. ^ Fish, Elizabeth (November 14, 2011). "Explore Space with a Spacecraft The Size of a Postage Stamp". Geek Tech (blog). Retrieved November 15, 2011.
  3. ^ Garling, Caleb (December 24, 2012). "Personal satellites that fly into space". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved December 26, 2012.
  4. ^ a b Bruce Dorminey (November 28, 2012). "First Kickstarter Funded Satellites To Launch in 2013". Forbes. Retrieved December 26, 2012.
  5. ^ "KickSat Has Been Deployed in Low-Earth Orbit". April 19, 2014. Retrieved April 26, 2014.
  6. ^ O'Neill, Ian (April 14, 2014). "Helium Leak Forces SpaceX Launch Scrub". Retrieved April 15, 2014.
  7. ^ Reyes, Matthew (April 7, 2014). "DIY Satellites: Now and Near Future | Make". Make: DIY Projects and Ideas for Makers. Retrieved January 5, 2019.
  8. ^ Zachary Manchester (October 4, 2011). "KickSat – Your personal spacecraft in space!". Kickstarter. Retrieved October 16, 2011.
  9. ^ Mark Brown (October 10, 2011). "Kickstarter project will launch hundreds of personal satellites into space". Wired UK. Archived from the original on October 1, 2015. Retrieved October 16, 2011.
  10. ^ Wayne Hall (November 17, 2011). "An orbit of your own, "KickSat" crowdsources spaceflight". Kentucky Science & Technology Corporation. Archived from the original on November 19, 2011. Retrieved November 20, 2011.
  11. ^ Boonsri Dickinson (October 10, 2011). "Send your own satellite into space". CNET. Retrieved October 18, 2011.
  12. ^ Michael Doornbos (October 21, 2011). "Evadot Podcast No. 86 – Would you like to have your own spacecraft in space? says you can". Retrieved November 20, 2011.
  13. ^ Johnson, Michael; Manchester, Zachary; Peck, Mason (January 30, 2012). " – an open source ChipSat dispenser and citizen space exploration proof of concept mission" (PDF). Rhode-Saint-Genèse (Brussels), Belgium: Von Karman Institute for Fluid Dynamics. p. 91. Archived from the original (PDF) on March 3, 2016. Retrieved July 13, 2013.
  14. ^ von Karman Institute for Fluid Dynamics. "Fourth European CubeSat Symposium". Archived from the original on July 13, 2013. Retrieved July 13, 2013.
  15. ^ Peter Murray (October 15, 2011). "Sprites – The Computer Chip-Sized Spacecraft That Will Send You a Text Message (for $300)". Singularity Hub. Archived from the original on October 17, 2011. Retrieved October 16, 2011.
  16. ^ John Biggs (October 9, 2011). "KickSat: Send Tiny DIY Satellites Into Space". Techcrunch. Retrieved October 16, 2011.
  17. ^ Andrew Vaudin (October 24, 2011). "Join the BIS in space". Featured Articles. British Interplanetary Society. Archived from the original on December 16, 2011. Retrieved October 25, 2011.
  18. ^ AMSAT-UK (November 19, 2011). "London Hackspace work on HackSat1". AMSAT-UK. Retrieved November 20, 2011.
  19. ^ "Worldwide Launch Schedule". Spaceflight Now. Retrieved December 3, 2012.
  20. ^ "KickSat has reentered". Retrieved May 18, 2014.
  21. ^ Dave Gershgorn (April 13, 2016). "This Is The Tiny Spaceship That Could Take Us To Alpha Centauri". PopSci. Retrieved May 13, 2017.
  22. ^ ""Max Valier" nano-satellite successfully launched - OHB System ENG". Retrieved March 25, 2019.
  23. ^ "Ar Venta-1 palīdzību kosmosā nogādāts pasaulē mazākais satelīts KickSat | Ventspils Augstskola". July 1, 2017. Archived from the original on July 1, 2017. Retrieved March 25, 2019.
  24. ^ "NASA Announces University CubeSat Space Mission Candidates". NASA. February 6, 2015.
  25. ^ Alasdair Allan (April 13, 2015). "NASA Approves Kicksat's Tiny DIY Satellites for Second Attempt". Make. Retrieved April 17, 2015.
  26. ^ "NG-10 Cygnus ends post-ISS mission after deploying satellites". SpaceFlight Insider. February 25, 2019. Archived from the original on March 27, 2019. Retrieved March 26, 2019.
  27. ^ "KickSat-2 is Alive and Being Tracked". Retrieved March 26, 2019.
  28. ^ University, Stanford (June 3, 2019). "Inexpensive chip-size satellites orbit Earth". Stanford News. Retrieved June 3, 2019.
  29. ^ Tavares, Frank (May 30, 2019). "What is KickSat-2?". NASA. Retrieved June 5, 2019.
  30. ^ "Cracker-sized satellites demonstrate new space tech". Cornell Chronicle. Retrieved June 5, 2019.
  31. ^ "KickSat-2 project launches 105 cracker-sized satellites". TechCrunch. June 4, 2019. Retrieved June 5, 2019.

Further reading