Space Shuttle Endeavour launched today, on its last mission and the second to last mission of the Space Shuttle program. On board this time were three postage-stamp sized mini satellites. These tiny satellites will be mounted on the outside of the International Space Station, and will perform the same mission that the Russian Sputnik spacecraft did in 1957. They will monitor space conditions and broadcast them back to Earth.
Communications and power are all that is needed for these mini satellites, as no propulsion is necessary. Mason Peck, who led the project to build the satellites at Cornell University, said that these are prototypes, and would remain in space for a few years before being brought back to earth. The idea is to eventually launch them in swarms, so that they can travel with the solar winds without any need for propulsion or fuel. “Their small size allows them to travel like space dust,” Peck said in a statement. “Blown by solar winds, they can ‘sail’ to distant locations without fuel.”
It costs millions now to build, maintain and launch a satellite, and these would obviously be much cheaper. Peck and his team have big plans for these in the future. “We’re actually trying to create a new capability and build it from the ground up,” Peck said. “We want to learn what’s the bare minimum we can design for communication from space.”
We hope that with space communication systems getting smaller, we will see less junk cluttering up Earth’s orbit. But with swarms of tiny satellites being launched, the opposite might be true.
Here is the video of the Endeavour’s launch from this morning, in case you missed it:
[via LA Times]