NASA’s mini satellites set to transform space exploration
Washington: Move over large satellites. NASA is working on miniaturised satellites, known as nanosatellites or CubeSats, that can fit in the palm of your hand and are providing new opportunities for space science.
“CubeSats are part of a growing technology that’s transforming space exploration,” said David Pierce, senior programme executive for suborbital research at NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC, in a statement.
CubeSats are small platforms that enable the next generation of scientists and engineers to complete all phases of a complete space mission during their school career.
“While CubeSats have historically been used as teaching tools and technology demonstrations, today’s CubeSats have the potential to conduct important space science investigations as well,” Pierce added.
CubeSats are built to standard specifications of 1 unit (U) which is equal to 10x10x10 centimetres (about 4x4x4 inches).
CubeSats can be 1U, 2U, 3U or 6U in size, weighing about 3 pounds per U.
They often are launched into orbit as auxiliary payloads aboard rockets, significantly reducing costs.
Because of the smaller payload and lower price tag, CubeSat technology allows for experimentation.
“There’s an opportunity to embrace some risk. These mini experiments complement NASA’s larger assets,” noted Janice Buckner, programme executive for NASA’s Small Innovative Missions for Planetary Exploration (SIMPLEx).
The low-cost and relatively short delivery time from concept to launch – typically two-three years – allows students and citizen scientists and engineers to contribute to NASA’s space exploration goals as part of the White House’s Maker Initiative.
In 2014, NASA announced the expansion of its CubeSat Launch Initiative, with the goal of launching 50 small satellites from 50 states within five years.
To date, NASA has launched 17 CubeSats.