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Nanosatellites may mean Bigger Opportunities in Space

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Three nanosatellites, known as Cubesats, are deployed from a Small Satellite Orbital Deployer (SSOD) attached to the Kibo laboratory’s robotic arm at 7:10 a.m. (EST) on Nov. 19, 2013. Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Koichi Wakata, Expedition 38 flight engineer, monitored the satellite deployment while operating the Japanese robotic arm from inside Kibo. The Cubesats were delivered to the International Space Station Aug. 9, aboard Japan’s fourth H-II Transfer Vehicle, Kounotori-4.

When we think of satellites in orbit, one conjures up images of lumbering behemoths careening through space with out stretched arms of solar panels.  Since the last shuttle flew back to Earth and straight into a museum I’ve been interested in what kinds of projects are in utero for our friends over at NASA.

My interest in NASA was revived once more this past weekend when I was attending a party for a friend.  As I nudged my way towards a plate gleaming with smoked salmon, I found myself in conversation with a gentleman that revealed he works for NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, CA.  The most interesting part of our conversation centered around the gentleman’s own work with satellite hardware, specifically ejection systems for nanosatellites.

Imagine a satellite in orbit about the size of a loaf of bread made from commercially available components.  Now imagine a fleet of of nanosats (referred to as a swarm) homed on a ‘mother’ vessel and working in concert with ground control teams to perform any number of coordinated activities.

While these small satellites have been in development since the 1990’s, now may be the right time to see increased competition and innovation in space.  Hopefully, making space more accessible for commerce and smaller countries will be one of the sparks that is needed to ignite the next space race.

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One Response to Nanosatellites may mean Bigger Opportunities in Space

  1. Dave Huntsman November 24, 2011 at 7:43 PM #

    Phobos-Grunt could seriously use a swarm of repair-bots the last week. Could such a swarm have been launched, on demand, from a small launch vehicle such as a Falcon-1? That would have been a cost-effective possible fix for such an important international planetary mission.

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