Fresh from showcasing in in Ann Arbor and Detroit’s Maker Faires, Wesley Faler, now in the Tampa Bay area, is bringing his remarkable FRETS1 Satellite to Tampa Bay Mini Maker Faire in March. Powered by a homemade miniature ion engine that will actually fly in space, FRETS1 is a TubeSat-style nanosatellite that will fly at 310 kilometers high and over 17,000 miles per hour.
Intrigued, we asked Wesley to tell us more about his project.
“One day I was minding my own business in high school physics class,” he relates. ” We were learning about voltage and charge, new yes but not terribly new considering a friend and I had built a particle accelerator years prior. What was new was an idea for using high charge for accelerating particles, something that seemed so much easier to do than using high voltage. So I tinkered and built a basic, and working, ion engine in the barn. (It still hangs in my lab, all wooden and full of steel wool and nails.) It was great fun but college came along then a decade focused on my career.
“In all, it was 15 years before I started tinkering with my own ion engine design again – being inspired by “Lifters” and their stranger cousins Asymmetrical Capacitor Thrusters. It turns out all of the easy things have been done for ion engines, so I’ve been on a quest to find new effects to apply. It’s taken me into some odd corners of physics and I finally found a way to significantly boost the thrust from an ion engine.
“That was well and good until one day I read two Internet articles. The first was from the Interorbital Systems company about their low cost satellite kit and launch package. $8K for most of a small satellite’s parts and it included the launch to orbit! Fantastic, and maybe someday I’d sign up I thought. Then I read an article about MIT’s brilliant idea for a new ion engine. (You see, the world is looking hard at ion engines these days.)
“The article said the engine works in the lab but they wanted to study it for several more years before launching. I thought that seemed ridiculous when they could have several flights per year with this new company, that they should really stop theorizing and start building. Silence. Silence. Sigh. I checked my savings account and opted for a satellite instead of a new car.
“Bottom line, I build a satellite to test an ion engine because I’m never done dreaming.”
We can’t think of a better reason to build a satellite!