If you have dreams of becoming a space explorer, then you'll be excited to learn that new research and development from Arizona State University has yielded a tiny personal satellite that will soon be available for around US$1000. A team of graduate and undergraduate students have spent the last 2 years developing a 3cm by 3cm cube satellite called the Suncube FemtoSat. The little device has everything needed for launching your very own space mission like a power supply, propulsion system and even communications capability. Check out the video of the team introducing the satellite below.
The key to making such a cheap satellite is making it weigh as little as possible to counteract the expensive launch costs of modern rockets. According to ASU, launch costs for getting one kilogram into space runs about US$60-70K, making space research out of reach for most people and even organizations. If you wanted to get to the ISS, the Suncube would cost about US$1000 to launch to this level. If you want to go beyond, then low-Earth orbit would cost you around US$3000, still incredibly cheap when you weigh your options.
This price point for launch is exactly what the team was trying to reach, and the cost is expected to shrink as companies like SpaceX develop more efficient and cost effective launch systems. Parts cost of the satellite would run in the few hundreds of dollars, and many of the parts can be salvaged from what would otherwise be considered waste. The tiny device uses solar panels for energy generation, but they are so small that the size is not available commercially. The team developed the creative solution of simply cutting off scrap from old panels and using that for the device, and so far it has worked well.
'Invigorating the field' is the main goal of this project, as the team wants to drive the everyday person to be able to experience the joy and excitement seen in space flight and exploration.
While actually taking a flight into space is still pretty expensive, getting to study and enjoy space is becoming a thing that even the most inexperienced of hobbyists can achieve. Imagine the leaps that knowledge of space will take when the study of it is brought into the hands of everyone. No longer will this realm be relegated to the scientifically elite, but rather everyone can help advance the information currently out there.