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I would like to have free or low-cost access to an existing CubeSat (educational satellite) for educational purposes. I wish to familiarise myself with the end to end command & control activities, telemetry data flow etc.

Eg. send commands to satellite etc. to take picture of an area, download the picture etc. OR something similar to this. Any recommendations for possible satellite owners who would allow such level of access. ?

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    $\begingroup$ You might be best starting out by getting to know amateur radio. I can't think of a cube-sat the doesn't use an amateur radio communications system - this means two things: (1) the data wont be encrypted and (2) it's likely that the downlink data can be easily understood as most cube sat operators like to share their data. $\endgroup$ – user6916458 Apr 14 at 23:52
  • $\begingroup$ Yup found some resources on amateur radio comms - satellite downlink side. Unable to find anything on the uplink side that I can use for sending commands to satellites etc. $\endgroup$ – rsf Apr 14 at 23:57
  • $\begingroup$ I would be surprised if there's much you can send to the satellites... all command data is typically encrypted for safety (we don't want some random person turning on and off sensors) $\endgroup$ – user6916458 Apr 15 at 0:10
  • $\begingroup$ You could try and contact the ISS via amateur radio (that's sending data!) $\endgroup$ – user6916458 Apr 15 at 1:00
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    $\begingroup$ for example " take picture of an area, download the picture" look at community.libre.space $\endgroup$ – A. Rumlin Apr 15 at 19:07
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I second most of what @mefitico said in his excellent answer. Most CubeSat operators even universities will not permit you to operate their satellite. It is a valuable asset, and they don't want anyone just playing with it. Not to mention, often their licenses (e.g. NOAA) has significant restrictions on how they must operate their satellite.

You can however, listen to a wide variety of CubeSats transmitting telemetry beacons by using a relatively low cost ($2000, or even less if manual) ground station. Check out SatNOGS for how to create your own ground station and join it to a worldwide network of monitoring stations.

See also:

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The short answer is:

Unless you are really lucky, your request is unfeasible.

The long answer is:

If you goal is to get familiar with protocols and data flow, I'd suggest you start studying the CCSDS standards, as they're the usual starting point for telemetry and telecommand formatting. Then, I'd suggest you find some software that will help you get acquainted with simulating the dynamics of orbit passes, access time and so on. STK has a free version you could check out.

This would give you the basis on what you should know before talking to someone who actually manages a cubesat.

Now, here is the tricky/costly part.

If you own an amateur radio station (which is not free), you can probably receive telemetry from many cubesats, which send some un-encrypted data to allow their orbit to be tracked by many sources. I know at least NanoSatC-Br1 allowed this. As this page quotes: "the project is very much dependent on information provided by the amateur radio community."

If however, you want to send commands to a spacecraft for free, you are in bad luck. This is like asking to use some laboratory in a university to which you don't belong (or maybe you do, depends on you).

Note that not so many cubesats can/could actually relay images to ground. Asking for images from a commercial cubesat (such as PlanetLab's) should be easy, but not free, and you'd hardly have direct control over it. Asking for an image from a scientific/research cubesat could be free, but difficult. They'd also be wary of you sending commands to their satellite.

Also, if you are not willing to pay for it, I'd guess you are also not willing to offer any collateral. What if your commands actually cause the cubesat to become un-operational? Hardly any researcher would disclose such concern, but launching a cubesat is hard work from a funding point of view, and nobody wants to throw it out the window.

Not sure what your intention is, but your best bet is likely to join or cooperate with some university that is currently developing a cubesat.

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