Tiny satellites are becoming more of a useful technology in the age of modern space exploration. As trips into space are typically gauged by price per pound or kilogram, fitting the most technology into the smallest package can be exceptionally beneficial. These tiny satellites are called CubeSats, and NASA is developing many different versions, 2 of which will even be making a trip to Mars independently relaying data back to Earth.
Professional organizations like NASA are not the only ones pioneering the industry; in fact, a research team from the University of Arizona is trying to give everyone the ability to send a satellite to space for under US$1000. The tiny little CubeSats being developed by NASA/JPL have a propulsion system, a radio, and a complete computer and processing system. These tiny systems are usually designed to do one task, but do it extremely well.
Larger satellites could not be reduced in size to that of a CubeSat due to their wide range of versatile functions. CubeSats and larger satellites are meant to work in tandem, with each having their own given area of necessity and operation.
The low cost of these tiny space probes will allow for not only more risky missions to incorporate the technology, but also the ability to pack multiple identical satellites into one launch to allow for redundancy if one is lost. NASA also sees CubeSats working together to build up one larger functioning cluster of satellites. Each smaller satellite would have a specific function, and all of them working together would have the same functionality as a larger spacecraft.
[Image Source: NASA JPL]
CubeSats won't be a universal solution to expensive space missions, but they will allow for more frequent specialized missions to take place. Sending your own satellite to space is going to become a reality very soon, and space will soon become an open source realm for discovery.
Written by Trevor English