The crowdfunded KickSat satellite delivered by SpaceX’s recent Falcon 9 launch (hitchhiking behind the Dragon spacecraft) had run into a snag — a computer reset has prevented it from ejecting its swarm of “sprites”, tiny satellites hardly larger than a postage stamp. In order to avoid endangering the ISS, KickSat has an onboard timer that was supposed to start ticking upon release from the Falcon 9. This would give a 16 day delay, long enough to ensure KickSat had dropped below the altitude of the ISS. Unfortunately, the computer suffered a hard reset on April 30 which reset the timer. Now, instead of deploying three days ago, the tiny satellites aren’t expected to deploy until May 16. That’s a big problem, since the whole thing was intentionally launched into a short-lived orbit. KickSat may not still be in orbit May 16. Indeed, the USAF’s space trackers estimate that it will reenter May 14. They give an error margin of three days, so there’s still a chance, but it’s a slim one. The only other cause for hope is the possibility of remotely commanding the satellite to release the sprites, but at present there isn’t enough power in its battery to run the uplink radio. There might be before May 14, but it’s a race against time.
The KickSat team hopes that if this isn’t successful, they can raise the money to try again another time. Unfortunately, things like this are part of what makes spaceflight so challenging; they believe a radiation storm caused the reset. (It certainly caused auroras.) And while those can be expected to happen, you never know when or how strong, and it’s difficult to design even an expensive spacecraft to endure all of them. This was not an expensive satellite, with the entire project costing a fraction of what a single RAD750 radiation-hardened microprocessor chip costs.