Tiny SkyCube and ArduSat-2 satellites venture into orbit

The International Space Station has been busy this month releasing the largest-ever group of CubeSats — tiny shoebox-sized satellites that can take images of Earth, log environmental data and even tweet messages.

Late last night, crew members aboard the ISS released five more CubeSats operated by two San Francisco companies, a Peruvian university and the the country of Lithuania. They join Planet Labs‘ flock of 28 satellites that were already released this month.

NASA published a video of the release today:

The San Francisco satellites are owned by Nanosatisfi and Southern Stars. NanoSatisfi’s ArduSat-2 will expand the startup’s platform-for-hire, which allows anyone to conduct research from Earth’s orbit. Southern Stars’ SkyCube will allow Kickstarter backers to send tweets and take images.

The two Lithuanian CubeSats are the first satellites ever launched by Lithuania. The Peruvian satellite will make the data it collects available to anyone in the world who can operate an amateur radio.

“(We’re) elated to have our third satellite in orbit, and looking now to our next satellite launch in a matter of weeks,” said Chris Wake, who manages product and growth at Nanosatisfi.

After a CubeSat is released, there is a tense waiting period before contact is established with the satellite.

Tim DeBenedictis, owner of Southern Stars, which operates the SkyCube, sent out an email update this morning describing the first few moments of communication with the SkyCube as it passed over North America his morning. From their U.S. ground station, Southern Stars pinged the satellite every 10 seconds. There was no response for the first minute or two. Then ground control operators say their radio detected a signal, which would mean the satellite is working.

“The guys here are 100 percent sure that was signal from the satellite,” DeBenedictis said in the email.  “The patient is alive. There’s a lot of smiles here.”