Space hacking with Atmel and ArduLab

Jordan Penchas is a 13-year-old eighth-grade student who lives in Houston, Texas. In 2012, Penchas began experimenting with an Atmel-powered Arduino Uno. By 2013, Penchas and his classmates at the Awty International School were trying out a new DIY kit dubbed “ArduLab” which allows students, Makers, hobbyists and engineers to conduct various experiments in space.

As we’ve previously discussed on Bits & Pieces, ArduLab, a highly capable experimentation platform ready for space right out of the box, is built around Atmel’s versatile ATMega 2560 microcontroller (MCU). Meaning, the low-cost, open-source, NASA-approved container ArduLab can be programmed just like an Arduino.

Penchas and his classmates are using the versatile ArduLab to design an experiment that will test the effects of graphene as a radiation shield. They also hope to track the growth of algae in zero gravity. According to Wired, Jordan’s Awty Ardulab experiment will be shipped to the International Space Station (ISS) in June 2014.

Earlier this month, Ardulab co-founder Manu Sharma told Bits & Pieces that his company was careful to maintain the basic architecture of a well adopted microcontroller when designing the open source space platform.

“[Ultimately], we decided to go with Atmel’s ATMega 2560, [which is] perfect for the ArduLab,” he explained. “Next, we developed the microcontroller board that extends the capabilities of the Arduino Mega with additional features that solve the toughest challenges every one faces when designing their experiments for operation on the International Space Station. We solved them, standardized the protocols and streamlined the process of remotely retrieving the data from ArduLab aboard the ISS while on earth.”

So what’s next for ArduLab? Well, the company is currently working on capabilities for real-time data, as well as video and control. And although ArduLab’s early customers include the Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL), the co-founder emphasized that the platform was also designed with students and educators in mind.

“Eventually, we want ArduLab in every high school and university’s science programs. [Remember], ArduLab is itself a space lab. Students will be able to collaborate and develop science experiments,” said Sharma. “Recently, we have considered something similar in the micro satellite market, although we aren’t talking about it too much at the moment. You should be hearing more from us about this soon.”

Interested in sending your experiment to the ISS and beyond? The Space Explorer Program includes ArduLab 1.0, an additional ArduLab board for experimentation development, launch slot to space and an Infinity Aerospace basic payload support for $4,995.

You can also customize your Explorer Program for an additional fee, while the Space Conqueror Program ($34,995 yearly subscription fee) offers unlimited flights to space, 3 x ArduLab 1.0, ($250 for each additional ArduLab 1.0) and a “Getting Started in Space” lesson with Infinity Aerospace engineers.

Want to learn more about the Atmel-powered ArduLab? Be sure to check out Infinity Aerospace’s (ArduLab’s) official page here.

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