Arduino, openFrameworks
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ARTSAT1: INVADER – Satellites for artistic exploration

On February 28, 2014, the world’s first art satellite, ARTSAT1: INVADER was launched as a piggyback payload of the H-IIA F23 launch vehicle. INVADER, a 10 cm cube 1U-CubeSat with a mass of 1.85 kg and equipped with Morikawa, a mission on-board computer (OBC) compatible with Arduino (more info), continued its steady operation on orbit, successfully completed an array of artistic missions by commands from the main ground station at Tama Art University in Tokyo. These artistic missions included algorithmic generation and transmission of synthesized voice, music, and poems; capturing and transmitting of image data; and communicating with the ground through a chatbot program.

Following the surge of personalization in the field of computers, networks and the recently much-hyped digital fabrication, the field of satellites and spacecrafts are also undergoing the same transformation, as nano satellites such as CubeSat become more widespread. Just as computer art and internet art were born out of an era of media personalization, we are now about to witness the unfolding of an art engendered by the personalization of satellites.


INVADER deorbited and reentered the Earth’s atmosphere seven months later for disintegration on September 2. During the INVADER’s operation, ARTSAT Project took part in the “mission [SPACE x ART] − beyond Cosmologies” exhibition held at the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo from June 7 – August 31, 2014, realizing the world’s first media installation deploying data from an operating satellite.


↑ Image of Japan taken by the satellite took approximately three weeks to transmit and many days to reconstruct from data.

In addition to many other sensors onboard, the INVADER was equipped with a compact low-resolution camera. The photograph above is the first image taken by the INVADER on April 8 2014, 16:28 (JST) when the satellite was on its orbit just south of Japan. Since no attitude control measures were taken to re-orient the satellite, downlinking the captured image data was necessary to determine whether the camera was facing the Earth. Despite these difficulties, the INVADER succeeded in taking an image, only 160 x 120 dots, beautifully capturing a clear outline of the Earth’s face (including the contours of its atmosphere) in daytime – its first and best shot. The monopole antenna in the center of the image is for receiving signals (in 145 MHz band) from the ground station. Transmission of the image data from the satellite took approximately three weeks with the help of many amateurs radio operators.

Unstable Horizon

↑ ‘Unstable Horizon’ installation

Without an attitude control system, INVADER was in constant steady rotation. The three displays show imaginary horizons that indicate the attitude of the INVADER from some point in the past. In a zero-gravity environment where the framework of relative direction such as up, down, left, right, forwards and backwards do not apply, the team ask if can there still be a fixed point that can be called an origin? Or even axes?

'Untouchable Face' installation

↑ ‘Untouchable Face’ installation

Under the adverse conditions of space, thermal control is essential for the various devices and instruments on board to properly operate. The aluminum plate is a tangible thermal map of the INVADER on orbit, corresponding to the temperatures of the different sections of the satellite. This “thermal sculpture” felt through touch, uses thermal energy interconvertable with mass, hinting at the physical presence of the satellite.

It is a kind of the circuit style garden to appreciate ultra-small pieces of data from INVADER on orbit. Trying to connect with the satellite by the irreplaceable ultra-small data is correspond to challenge the limits of the reality of digital data by the exercise of imagination. It must be an essential and indispensable experience for us on the earth in the age of big data.


The team are working on the improved version of the exhibition using the archived data of INVADER through the specially developed ARTSAT API (web + openFrameworks). The ARTSAT API is delivering all the archived telemetry data obtained from INVADER to the application used by the end user.

DESPATCH (DEep SPace Amateur Troubadour’s CHallenge) is the second spacecraft in the ARTSAT series. This spacecraft was launched into an Earth escape trajectory December 2014, along with the Hayabusa-2 asteroid probe. Current distance from Earth: 63775342.585 km. For more information about the project and ways to get involved, see links below.

Project PageARTSAT API

Editor’s note: ARTSAT1: INVADER is among this year’s entries for Prix Ars Electronica – Hybrid Art category (of which I was a jury member). For more information about the category and submissions, see here.


“mission [SPACE x ART] − beyond Cosmologies” exhibition held at the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo from June 7 – August 31, 2014


Various data collected by the INVADER is transmitted to the ground as AX. 25 protocol packets with a data division of 204 bytes and a total data length of 255 bytes. The received data and the real-time position of the INVADER are visualized on the square display of 2048 x 2048 dots.


An elaborately machined aluminum structure was used as the framework for INVADER. The materials are the remainders and spare parts of the satellite, remnants that were unable to make a departure to space despite the fact that they were intended to become part of the INVADER.

  • Ubi de Feo

    great project.
    I bumped into it while researching how to deploy a satellite :)