Small Satellites Making the Grade, getting Commercial

First off, I want to welcome all my new followers--we went from nine to 64 in a day!  (This is what happens when you ask.)  Please make use of the comments section to let me know what you want to know more about, what questions you have, etc.  This is a blog about the commercial space industry, written by and for interested amateurs like myself, so I want to know what interests you!

Also, many thanks to Walt Staples, Fred Warren and others who keep sending articles my way.  Holy cow!  There's no way I can keep up!  After some consideration, I've decided to shy away from current events and try to concentrate on 

Today, I'm following the space junk/emerging industry thread I've kind of had going by talking about a new kid in town--ultra small smallsats.  Smallsats themselves are anything under 1100 pounds, but lately, they are coming to include really tiny satellites--like postage stamp tiny!

Created by Cornell University, not the USPS, and its going up to the ISS for testing.  the little blue squares are solar cells.
Here's the popular CubeSat.  This photo is from Weber State Universitiy in Utah, which is just down the road from us.  Who knew Utah was so big in space?
Obviously, the big advantage of minisats is that they are small and cheap. That makes launching  them cheaper and replacing them easier--whether they fail after launch or after time on mission.   thansk to miniaturization craze that has brought us everything from the cell phone to the ipod, there's a lot these little powerhouses can do.

Right now, there seems to be a lot of interest in the minisatelite business among universities.  They are terrific, apparently, for atmospheric readings, imagery of the Earth's surface, tracking radiation over time (above the atmosphere), testing technologies in space, even tracking bird migrations.  Here's a really cool list of cubesat missions, which he stopped updating in 2009, alas, but it gives you a good idea of the versatility of the satellites.)  There are also business plans going out for cubesats to replace larger satellite missions, like mapping the earth.)  Naturally, they're a great idea for studying other planets, especially where durability isn't as much a concern as getting the data cheaply before the thing disintegrates in the atmosphere or whatever.  There's even speculation that someday, minisats will go the way of the computer, and everyone will have their own personal satellite to handle their communications, etc. 

Launch companies are going to have to think about what this means for them.  Not only could the market for larger launch vehicles decline, but there may be other ways of launching.  The ISS is looking into deploying these things out of the station, so much of the satellite launch market may lie in getting the little guys to the station, or building another station.  (Bigelow Aerospace may have a market outside of tourism and space experiments for its station!)

So we'll be having swarms of little satellites doing some of the jobs a single big one does.  Is this going to make trouble of the space junk variety?  Proponents say, "no," because they will be in a low orbit and in the case of the stamp-sized ones, will start deorbiting almost immediately.  However, as time and improving technology march on, we'll probably see more and better minisats filling the atmosphere.  I think it will become a consideration, but how big is the question.

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