Tomorrow’s Endeavour launch signals the end of the space shuttle program, but it may usher in a new era in satellite technology. Three tiny orbiters roughly the size of saltines will be released by the shuttle, Space.com reports. They are rudimentary prototypes, but how they react in space and transmit information will be key in further developing this new mode of orbital technology. Suck on that, Soviets, we won the (tiny) space race!
The mini-satellites were built by Cornell students (cough, safety school, cough) and are made to deliver one short solar-powered signal, or “beep.” The present need for these little guys is more about charting the miniaturization of space travel, rather than saving a buck. Aerospace engineer Mason Peck elaborates:
“It’s not about reducing cost, although that may be a nice benefit. Instead, we are re-conceiving spacecraft architectures and exploration missions for this tiny scale. The way tiny spacecraft work is radically different from how larger ones work, and it’s even qualitatively different from how CubeSats or smartphone-size satellites work.”
If you’re worried about space junk (and you should be), these tiny satellites operate at a slower speed and lower orbit, meaning they should be safe. Although, we’re sure China will figure out a way to mess it all up.
All that’s needed is a catchy name. “Sate-lights?” “Satellite Jr.?” Peck throws his hat in the ring, “Instead of a spaceship, think of a ‘space-chip.'”
Meh, we’ll stick to “Satellite Jr.”
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 28, 2011