Small Space Satellites Make Sense

March 21, 2017

 

 

NASA is about to launch six new next-generation Earth-observing small satellites, some the size of a loaf of bread, to help study the planet from space. The small sats will be launched, deployed, in orbit over the Earth collecting data.

The term small satellite, or sometimes minisatellite, microsatellite, nanosatellite, satlet, or smallsats, often refers to an artificial satellite that weighs under 500 kg (1,100 lb). These segments of the satellite launch industry have been growing rapidly. More than 1,000 nanosats are projected to be launched in the next five years.

Even smaller satellites have been launched called picosatellites and pemtosatellites weighing in between 10 and 100 g (0.35 and 3.5 oz).

Sometimes designs or proposed designs have small satellites working together or in a formation or "satellite swarm".

Small satellites make sense. Miniaturized satellites allow for the opportunity to test new hardware with reduced expense in testing. Furthermore, since the overall cost risk in the mission is much lower, more up-to-date but less space-proven technology can be incorporated into micro and nanosats than can be used in much larger, more expensive missions with less appetite for risk.

 

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