Introduction: Build Your Own "Spy Satellite"

I always thought it would be neat to have your own "Spy" Satellite. The fact that we have our own Spy Satellites traveling around the earth just amazes me. So why not have your own? The following instructable shows you how to do just that, build your own Spy Satellite. This is Vs. 1. Oh, and did I mention this is a  "Green" project via recycling old parts? More to come on that.

The Satellite features the following:
  • A wireless camera that can transmit video/audio up to 300ft!
  • Sun tracking garden variety solar panels to recharge is batteries. 
  • Thruster to simulate a burn to position itself in the correct orbit.
  • Speaker for wake up and sleep procedures to conserve power.

Ready to build your own? Well here is how.

Step 1: Finding an Enclosure

First thing you need to do is a find a suitable enclosure. I found mine at Goodwill, great place for project parts hunting. I found this great lamp that was missing the base that had everything I was looking for. The flexible neck once removed made a great hole to attached a thruster. The hole for the power cable was perfect for a programming port. And the hole for the on/off switch was a perfect fit for my wireless camera. The odds of you finding this same setup are slim so keep your mind open when looking for an enclosure. Look at things a different way, from different angles. Don't look at things for what they are but for what they could be. Do this and you'll find an enclosure in no time, or you can just build you own. ;-) Take a look at the lamp light cover. Looks like a great rocket or thruster huh?

Step 2: Gutting Time and Primary Parts Arrangement

So you have your enclosure. Now comes the fun part....gutting it. Mine was pretty simple. All I had to do was unscrew everything and it practically fell apart. Try to keep any parts you may be able to re use in your project or another in the future and recycle the rest.

Once gutted you need to start pre-fitting your primary components. This way you can work around these parts to avoid some headaches later.

Step 3: Building the Thruster

Ok, so remember how I said you gotta keep your mind open and look at things not for what they are and for what they could be? Well, here is a perfect example. For my thruster what better item to use then a nose hair trimmer lol.

Purchased at Harbor Freight on sale, plus 20% coupon, I quickly found myself converting this into the perfect thruster.
  1. Gut the thruster portion
  2. Glue in a piece of hollowed out threaded rod (can find in lamp section@ your local hard ware store, may need to cut down)
  3. Lightly sand and paint
  4. Cut some perf board to fit inside
  5. Solder different color LED's to the board leaving enough wire to attach some kind of connector (dig in your recycled parts bin to locate connectors or purchase at Radio Shack, etc)
  6. Glue board to thruster and bolt to base of lamp.

Step 4: Adding Audio

For this project audio is straight forward. We will be using a small piezo element. Simply glue to the enclosure, add a connector, and your good to go.

Step 5: Building the Chassis

We are going to need some sort of chassis to hold our circuitry and solar panels. I find that by layering perfboards you can make a suitable chassis easily, cheap, and easy to attach parts to. Doing this also allows you to service your satellite easily by being able to attach connectors to it for easy parts removal. Check the following pictures to see how I made mine.

Step 6: Building the Solar Panels

For my Satellite I am using 4 rechargeable 2000 Nimh batteries (not including a 9V for the camera). To be able to sustain the batteries for a while we need to keep them charged. To do so I am using two garden light variety solar panels. I removed the panels from the lights and created a mold to give them a clean look and hide where the wires go into the hollow tube. Check out the pictures to see how its done.

Step 7: Building the Solar Panel Chassis

The Solar Panels need to move to be able to track the sun. Using 4 "L" brackets, a micro servo, and some salvaged gears we can build a suitable tracking unit. The "L" brackets are made by buying some 3/4" wide flat aluminum rods, hacking them down to size and bending them accordingly using a vise or set of pliers. Drill holes on each leg for bolts and the Solar Panel tube. One set of brackets I had to cut the width down  so I could attach the servo. Also the bigger "L" brackets need to have a slit dremeled out to allow the passage of the wires during assembly. Check out the pictures for clarification. Find some small gears from an old toy, tape player, etc. Drill out the center to match your Solar Panel tube size and lightly glue on via a dab of hot glue for easy removal if needed. Take a matching gear and attach to the servo. You can cut down the servo horn and attach to that for easy removal of the gear from the servo. Then put it all together based on the pictures.

Step 8: Camera Attachment

The camera portion of this build was the easiest. I purchased a wireless camera on E-Bay for like $30. Simply unscrew the lens, insert the lens through the hole, and screw back into camera. Add a dab of hot glue to keep in place, and attach a 9V battery during operation. Vs 2.0 will turn on via a timing schedule or via remote control.

Step 9: Adding the Progamming Port

I wanted to be able to update the programming and add auxiliary power during demos. I found that a PS2 mouse extension cable worked perfectly. It has enough pins to due the job and by cutting the cable in half gave me both a male and female end with wires ready for soldering. Once stripped and re wired I simply hot glued it in position and added a connector to plug into the circuit board.

Step 10: Building the Circuit Board

Now for the most difficult part of the build, the brain. Now seeing how this is built using a lot of junk, and spare parts pulled off of old equipment, its difficult to show you where to put each individual component. Reference the pictures to see where I placed my parts. Also check out the schematic (still working on learning eagle cad) and code below. I am using a Picaxe 14M for the brain. There is lots of info on how to read schematics, program the picaxe, etc on instructables,, and of course google.

For a better picture of the Schematic:

Step 11: Whats Going on in There?

So your probably wondering what the heck is going on. Let me break it down for you. Upon power input the program first checks the voltage input coming off the solar panels. If the voltage is to low it falls asleep. To high and it wakes up, plays its boot up music, and fires its LED thruster. After that the panels start scanning 5 spots in the sky and measures the voltage at each interval. Once complete it compares the values and finds the highest voltage source spot. It then turns its panels to that location and goes falls asleep for a small amount of time to conserve power. After it wakes up its checks the initial voltage and starts the process all over again. If the voltage is to low its plays its boot down music and goes into a long stand by time.

Step 12: Final Assembly

All there is left to do is put it all together. I was able to seat my chassis directly into the body and use the two holes I drilled for the Solar Panel tubes as a guide and to stabilize everything. I was able to move the perfboards up and down via the threaded rod for a perfect fit. Once that was complete I pre charged my batteries and uploaded my program. Now I have my own "Spy Satellite".  I nick named it "Obama 1" . President kinda has some big ears lol.

If you have any questions feel free to ask! and don't forget to vote for me for the "Celestron Space Challenge"

Also note  thanks to my friend Steven for the AWESOME picture of the "Spy Satellite" orbiting our great Earth!

Celestron Space Challenge

First Prize in the
Celestron Space Challenge

Green Living & Technology Challenge

Participated in the
Green Living & Technology Challenge