The next big thing in space is really, really small

Don’t expect these to come without dual-use risk, especially if China and Russia get their hands on these. Swarms could take out American satellites and potentially render the modern military useless.

 

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The SunCube FemtoSat and the three-tiered version have a propulsion system, data collection and communications capability. The three-tiered one also has space for a payload. Image courtesy Charlie Leight/ASU Now.

 

Going into space is now within your grasp. A tiny spacecraft being developed at Arizona State University is breaking the barrier of launch cost, making the price of conducting a space mission radically cheaper.

“With a spacecraft this size, any university can do it, any lab can do it, any hobbyist can do it,” said Jekan Thanga, assistant professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration? The School of Earth and Space Exploration is an academic unit of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. and head of the Space and Terrestrial Robotic Exploration (SpaceTREx) Laboratory.

Thanga and a team of graduate and undergraduate students – including Mercedes Herreras-Martinez, Andrew Warren and Aman Chandra – have spent the past two years developing the SunCube FemtoSat – Femtosatellite or “femtosat” is usually applied to artificial satellites with a wet mass.

Wet mass in this context means the weight of the spacecraft and any fuel it will use to propel itself around while in space. between 10 and 100 g (0.35 and 3.53 ounces). It’s tiny – 3 cm by 3 cm by 3 cm. Thanga envisions a “constellation of spacecraft” – many eyes in many places. A swarm of them could inspect damaged spacecraft from many angles, for example.

Launch and launch-integration costs currently run into $60,000-$70,000 per kilo. The Russians, the Chinese and the Indians all charge about the same amount, too. That can get pretty pricey for a full-size satellite.

“These high costs put out of reach most educational institutions and individuals from the ability to build and launch their own spacecraft,” ASU’s team wrote in a paper detailing the new model.

Launch expenses for the SunCube FemtoSat will cost about $1,000 to go to the International Space Station or $3,000 for flight into low-Earth orbit. (Earth escape will cost about $27,000.)

“There’s a whole community out there interested in this idea of low-cost, swarms of disposable spacecraft,” Thanga said.

And they’re getting smaller and smaller, thanks to smartphone tech, which has miniaturized everything.

Full article: The next big thing in space is really, really small (SpaceDaily)

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