Iridium 9523 Satellite Modem Development Platform

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Rendering of TechEdSat 3 after deployment from the International Space Station
Sponsor NASA Ames Research Center
Team Name Team Rocket
Duration Fall 2016 - Spring 2017
Faculty Advisers
  • Tessa Aus
  • David Handy
  • Jonathan Hanson
  • Jordan Lynn
  • Chris Ocker

The goal of this project is to develop a hardware/software platform for using the Iridium 9523 satellite modem on nano-satellites at NASA Ames Research Center.

Design Task

The TechEdSat (TES) program at NASA Ames Research Center, led by Marc Murbach, is a series of nano-satellites deployed from the International Space Station (ISS) to test a small payload quick return (SPQR) concept. SPQR will allow for the retrieval of small scientific payloads from the ISS on Earth using a rapidly de-orbiting satellite which will deploy a guided parafoil system to land the payload at a specified point on Earth. This technology may also be useful for landing experimental probes on other planets.

TES missions are designed to test the use of an "exo-brake" for controlled descent into Earth's atmosphere. At the current stage of this process, the nano-satellites do not survive re-entry, and post-mission data recovery is impossible. Therefore, it is of high importance to transmit as much data as possible as the satellite is in orbit. This is done through the use of the Iridium satellite network and the existing hardware on the satellite is the Iridium 9602 Short-Burst Data modem. The purpose of this project is to upgrade to the streaming-data-capable Iridium 9523 modem to allow for higher data rates.

We will be developing a platform centered around the Iridium 9523 satellite modem. This upgrade will provide the satellite with a higher rate of data transfer which will enable the down-link of pictures and additional data in the time before it is destroyed upon re-entry. The key outcomes of this project will be a carrier board for the modem which will allow integration of the hardware with the existing satellite and a software library to access all necessary functionality of the 9523 modem.

Detailed Specifications

  • Hardware
    • 9523 Iridium Modem Development Board
      • Breaks out all 9523 functionality
      • LED visual feedback
    • TechEdSat Communications/Carrier Board
      • Standard CubeSat form factor
      • Data interfaces to existing TechEdSat hardware
  • Software
    • 9523 Iridium Modem Teensyduino Library
      • Interface with 9523 Iridium Modem
        • Packet mode backward compatibility
        • Data streaming capability
      • Unit Test
        • 90% code coverage
      • Package into library
      • JavaDoc-Quality Library Documentation Webpage

Project Learning

Interview with Marc Murbach, Jon Wheless, Austin Tanner (NASA Ames)

  • Client expectations:
    • Carrier board for new Iridium 9523 modem
    • Enable capability to stream pictures, other data to ground
    • Interface to existing data connections within TechEdSat
    • All code well-documented
    • Hardware, all pin-outs in silk
  • Stretch goals:
    • New solar panels for satellite
    • New libraries for additional electronics
    • Expansion of web dashboard capabilities
  • Existing work
    • Code from existing 9602 will be sent to us
    • Teensy microcontroller (Arduino compatible) will continue to be development platform
  • Priorities
    • Focus on replicating 9602 short-burst data capabilities on 9523
    • Move on to adding streaming data capability to 9523
  • Deadlines
    • Be ready for high-altitude balloon test Spring 2017
  • Future meeting schedule
    • Email once/week
    • Face-to-face once/month

Concept Development


2016-2017 TeamRocket Iridium9523DevBoard3D.png

There will be two pieces to the hardware portion of this project. First will be the design of a board which will breakout all necessary functionality of the 9523 modem. This will include a SIM card reader, status LEDs, and socket for mounting of the Iridium modem. The goal of this board is to provide the software team with a development platform for testing code prior to final integration with the TechEdSat platform. This board will also serve as a test of the boost circuitry to provide the Iridium 9523 with the necessary power to transmit.

This final portion will require a PCB with the necessary connections to interface with the existing TechEdSat hardware/software. The size of this board will be constrained to the 1U CubeSat standard. Additional components, such as a GPS receiver, will also be mounted on this board.


The software portion of the project will begin with the short burst data code provided by NASA Ames which has been used with the existing Iridium 9602 modem platform. This code will be adapted to work with the new Iridium 9523 modem.

The software is currently nearing completion. The code provides functions to send short burst data messages, as well as initiate a dial-up connection to the internet via the Iridium Ground Station.

Team Biographies

2016-2017 TeamRocket TessaAus.jpg

Tessa Aus

Electrical Engineering Student

Hometown: Fairbanks, Alaska


Tessa is a senior specializing in Radio Frequency Engineering with the goal to work in the Telecommunications Industry. She is an avid fitness enthusiast as well as a passionate outdoorsman. She was born and raised in Alaska and graduated from a small school in Boise. She hopes to someday have 2 dogs and travel back to Alaska for more adventure.

2016-2017 TeamRocket DavidHandy.jpg

David Handy

Computer Engineering Student

Hometown: Corbett, Oregon


David is interested in both hardware and software. He is preparing for a career in the aerospace industry, with previous experience at NASA Ames Research Center and Aerovel Corporation. In his free time, David enjoys fiddling around with Linux and his quadcopter, playing piano, and watching whatever sports are on.

2016-2017 TeamRocket JonathanHanson.jpg

Jonathan Hanson

Electrical Engineering/Computer Engineering Student

Hometown: Kent, Washington


Jonathan is an Electrical Engineering and Computer Science student interested in embedded computing and data communications. He’s honed his skills working at NASA Ames Research Center and The Boeing Company, leading the Idaho RISE Near-Space Engineering Team, and tinkering with a Raspberry Pi or BeagleBone Black in his spare time. One day he hopes to work in R&D the Space Industry designing and integrating electronic systems.

2016-2017 TeamRocket JordanLynn.jpg

Jordan Lynn

Computer Science Student

Hometown: Pingree, Idaho


Jordan studies Computer Science here at the University of Idaho, his preferred area of study is anything in the field of artificial intelligence. In his spare time Jordan enjoys coding competitions and running the Astronomy club here at U of I.

2016-2017 TeamRocket ChrisOcker.jpg

Chris Ocker

Computer Science Student

Hometown: Kuna, Idaho


Chris is a Computer Science student at the University of Idaho. His focuses are in cyberwarfare and video game development. In his free time, he plays wargames and works with the Unity engine.


Project Documents

External Links

NAL Research Corporation